Turkey and Twitter: the many-headed monster of social media

Remember the countries where “media freedom” and “social media” were simply hazy concepts? Yes, North Korea and Iran come to mind. Well, you may now add Turkey to that list. Just hours after its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, promised to eradicate the social media network, Turkey blocked out Twitter and allegedly brought in a few users for questioning.

The reason behind the banhammer? Audio recordings, allegedly of Erdoğan in conversation, which seem to imply corruption. There’s also been word of related documents.

Interestingly, this ban was suggested two weeks ago by Erdoğan himself, and dismissed at the time by Abdullah Gul, the President of Turkey. While we’re not going to consider the political implications here, it is disturbing to note the Prime Minister’s words:

“We are determined on the issue, regardless of what the world may say. We won’t allow the people to be devoured by YouTube, Facebook or others. Whatever steps need to be taken we will take them without wavering.”

This is terrible news by any measure, and a stark reminder to us Sri Lankans that the social media situation could indeed be much worse (heck, we even have a memes page that pokes fun at leading politicians). At the same time, while it’s a reminder of just how much power the men and women we vote for wield over us, it’s also a revelation:

Social media has truly changed the game.

We thought it would be unbiased journalism, but it isn’t: any organization can be bought out, cut down or threatened (as our politicians have proven time and time again). But social media, that unstoppable surge of the crowd, is proving unstoppable. Like the legendary Hydra of Greek Mythology, it grows. As one head is cut off, another grows: as one website is blocked, another tweets.

Turkey’s situation – the government may have blocked Twitter, but is Twitter the only medium? Consider the thousands of forums, IRC chats, Reddits – each of which is a social network of its own.  Can it possibly tackle them all? Not without turning into another North Korea and violating a great deal of freedoms. In fact, people are protesting. They’re not likely to stop. Heck, Gadaffi, Hosni Mubarak, the Syran Electronic Army – none of them really succeeded. There is no Hercules to kill this monster.

And the overarching point: social media’s so strong that entire governments feel threatened by a network where users post 140 characters at a time – is that not a win, in every possible way, for the people?

Mind you, social media isn’t a golden sword. The hydra is a bit double-edged. We’ve seen social media being put to some pretty bad uses – for example, Buddhist militancy as of late. Tapping into the voice of the masses is a two-way line: you give some and you get some, and sometimes those giving aren’t good people. That’s a fact of life.

The question is, will our government follow in the footsteps of this seemingly despotic Prime Minister? Well, it’s already proved that it’s not above blocking websites – take the Colombo Telegraph, for example, which many people now read via proxies. Even so, CT is kept in the minds of its readers by its strong social media following.  It looks like social media, for now, is winning.

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