Erdoğan : “We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.”
Anyone still in doubt about the revolutionary potential of social media just needs to look to Turkey: the idea of citizens freely exchanging information was such a threat to the Turkish state that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has just blocked twitter, saying:
“We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.”
Or everyone will laugh at the idiocy of the Turkish Prime Minister.
Erdoğan has, of course, triggered the Streisand effect – when trying to censor social media makes a story go viral. This is a typical response from older, more established power structures: they don’t like a story being spread on social media, so they try to shut it down. They do this, either through the courts, with super injunctions or other legal instruments, or if they are really stupid, by trying to shut down the service all together.
But the internet fights back. It was designed to facilitate the free flow of information, and quickly finds its way around blockages. There are, of course, ways around the twitter ban, and people have been sharing them from the start.
One cause that pretty much any social media user in the world can be rallied to is the protection of free speech online: no one, no matter what their politics, wants the state to be able to silence them. So Erdoğan has just made an enemy of the internet, which won’t end well for him.
The state can control the flow of information through the formal news channels – television, radio, newspapers and their websites. This is done either through direct control of the media, or through repressive legislation designed to stop free speech – like South Africa’s Secrecy Bill. Even in countries where the state doesn’t directly control the media, they have mechanisms to influence media organisations to try to stop them reporting stories.
Anyone observing from the UK, for example, will be well aware of how the Tories have leaned on the BBC to not report the privatisation of the NHS, and to help to push Tory policy. They will also be aware of bizarre attempts to intimidate, such as the spies who forced the Guardian to destroy a laptop which allegedly contained copies of the files released by Edward Snowden.
But they can’t control social media.
In this era of transparency and communication, information is fuel for social change. Wikileaks revelations about the corruption of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia helped fuel the revolution there. Social media has helped drive social change across the Middle East, and throughout Europe.
In the West, we have learned from Wikileaks and from Snowden how utterly corrupt our leaders are, and how their spying and surveillance makes the Stasi look like amateurs. This is fuelled a huge disgust at electoral politics, and a growing protest movement.
It is also fuelling a new form of activism and politics. In the US in particular, union activists are using social media to drive the campaign for a living wage in retail and fast food.
There is a global conversation about power, accountability, and the kind of society we want to be part of. The world’s citizens – united like never before by the internet – are taking an active part in it. The way the state responds will determine whether we experience a revolution or a reform process.
The state can influence this conversation by taking part in it, but trying to shut down the message will have the opposite effect.
Information is the food of revolution, social media is a brilliant delivery mechanism. Erdoğan is standing against the rising tide of history, like King Canute trying to order the sea to go back.
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