Twitter versus Prime Minister Erdoğan

Twitter versus Prime Minister Erdoğan

Twitter has come up as the hero out of the massive Taksim protests in Turkey over the last 12 days. The extensive use of social media during the riots is unprecedented. The recent report of the New York University’s Social Media and Political Participation showed that the hashtag #direngezipark had been used in more than 1.8 million tweets just between June 2 to June 3. In comparison, during the entire Egyptian revolution the most popular hashtag #jan25 was used in less than one million tweets.

It was not only the Turkish people who used Twitter remarkably. Right after his meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Stefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement, “tweeted” that he was disappointed with Erdoğan’s refusal to enter a dialogue with the protestors. The U.S. Embassy in Ankara also released a “Twitter declaration” denying Erdoğan’s recent statement that 17 people had been killed during the Occupy Wall Street protests. That both the EU and U.S. officials responded to Erdoğan via Twitter could be read as a message in itself since Erdoğan described the micro-blogging site as a “troublemaker” upon its mass use during the protests.

This statement only reflects the power struggle between the nation state and the individual. Social media has shifted the power balance between these two powers and provided the citizen with an extraordinary power over the state. Conventional media had become the fourth power in addition to the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of governance, and was supposed to balance the state’s power. Yet, eventually it became incorporated into the system. At that moment, the Internet came to the rescue of the individual who needs a tool to challenge the state. As Howard Rheingold, an American author, put very well: Every desktop, hence every individual has become a potential broadcasting station and a place of assembly. Now the Internet and global public opinion are defined as the fifth power.

How a nation-state will relate itself to the fifth power will define its status in the 21st century. A state which aims to become a regional or global power cannot achieve its goal by excommunicating the social media which holds the strongest global leverage. This would substantially diminish its connection and communication with the world, therefore its sphere of influence. Furthermore, censoring the internet and interfering with the information flow have become the new form of censorship, in other words, the biggest violation of the right of expression.

According to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, modern communities are becoming “liquid” since old solid structures are being replaced by more fluid objects and spaces. Increasingly mobile and evasive forms of power have emerged out of the state’s control. States need to adjust themselves to this “liquid modernity” and become flexible and transparent by bending their borders and embracing the realities of this new era. Otherwise they might be washed away into the background with this wave of “liquidity.”