Turkish youth and the government’s stance on social media

Turkish youth and the government’s stance on social media

“When the COVID-19 pandemic is over would you download an app developed by the state that has access to your everyday movement, in order to ensure your medical well-being and security?”
While 49.8 percent said “no,” 46.3 percent said “yes.” Those who don’t know are a mere 3.9 percent.

The poll was conducted by the Istanbul Economics Research in cooperation with the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

One interesting finding of the poll was that 63 percent of those aged between 18-24 said they would download it. Are the youth careless about their privacy and less sensitive to their individual liberties?

Not necessarily, according to Özgehan Şenyuva, from Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ). “Young generations are digital natives; they are born to the digital world and they accept the fact that it is there. They would not fight downloading the government’s app. But they would troll it, manipulate it by entering wrong information, for instance,” said Şenyuva at an online panel last month on the findings of the poll.

The debate on the youth at that panel was particularly timely since it came at a time when both the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) both said they will be chasing the votes of Generation Z, the youngest segment eligible to vote in the next elections in 2023.

And interestingly, it was during the pandemic that the representatives of this generation got into direct interaction with the political elites. What pushed them to do so? The university admission exams. The date of the exam was changed twice due to the pandemic. The original date at the beginning of June was postponed to the end of July.

But as the government concluded that it started to take COVID-19 under control, it took forward the date to the end of June. The government wanted 2.5 million children who entered this year’s exam to go as soon as possible to holiday destinations to revitalize the domestic tourism.

The last change of date infuriated the youth, who had to readjust their working timeline, and they expressed their anger by launching the hashtag #SandiktaGorusuruz (We’ll see you at the ballot box) on May 4 on Twitter.

Known with his criticism of social media, one would assume President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not a frequent user of social media, delegating the management of his accounts to his aides. But it was interesting to see that he chose YouTube as a channel of communication for the youth on June 26, one day prior to the university admission exam.

There, too, the youth did not miss the occasion to express their reaction. One cannot know whether he was aware of it at the time.

But his July 2 statement implying additional restrictions to social media platforms like YouTube came as a contradiction to the AK Party’s urge to lure the votes of the youth.

Of course, there is still time until 2023. The AK Party might have prioritized an approach to restrict social media, which many believe will help silence dissenting voices, and lift the restrictions perhaps at a later stage, when they will need the votes of the youth. Or, perhaps, they are counting on their allies from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), as it seems to receive more support from the youth, than the AK Party.

Polls suggest the majority of the youngsters don’t believe any of the present parties can solve the country’s problems. But they seem to be more attracted by the MHP, İYİ (Good) Party and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). “The youth want clearer stances from the parties,” explained prominent pollster Bekir Konda in a recent interview.

According to Şenyuva, an academic with extensive work on youth, the generation that grew up with “Harry Potter,” a boy who waits to be saved by an old wise man and learns to fight against oppression throughout seven books, is now followed by the generation of “Hunger Games,” where this time a girl who initially struggles simply to feed her family turns into a rebel fighting oppression in a short time.

“Young people are not saving the world, but they are engaged and connected with their local communities,” said Şenyuva. “They are staying away from party politics, but they are organized among themselves.”

Turkish youth were ordered to stay at home during the pandemic and they obeyed it, according to Şenyuva, but they also took initiatives to bring care, for instance, for the elderly. And obviously, they are organizing through social media.

But Şenyuva warns that the learning curve in terms of social media has increasingly been in favor of the governments.