When we distinguish between the powers and the pitfalls of digital communications here on Everyday Ambassador, we always apply the question, “Is this tool bringing far-off people closer together, or creating greater distance between people already close-by?”
The pitfalls are the latter—when we’re texting at dinner, or more concerned about the way we appear on Instagram than the way we actually engage with others. The power is the former—when we connect in order to unite against forces that otherwise keep us separate or silent.
This past week, the people of Turkey historically championed the use of Twitter for civic justice, and we think all global citizens could benefit from taking a page from their playbook.
The background? After being subject to corruption investigations, Turkey’s beleaguered Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has faced many challenges to his power over the past year by citizens who’ve taken to social media to leak documents evidencing his corrupt activities. With municipal elections only days away on March 30th, it is reported that Erdogan had become frustrated with the power of social media to undermine his authority and potentially thwart his electability.
Last Thursday, Erdogan decided to actually ban Twitter altogether, likely in hopes that it would stifle the voices speaking out against his allegedly corrupt activities. As TIME reports, this is not a surprising move from the PM:
Erdogan has also vowed to ban Facebook and YouTube[…]. The Prime Minister’s particular loathing for social media began last summer, when protests broke out in Istanbul over a park, and swelled into a rebellion against his autocratic tendencies. ‘There is now a scourge called Twitter,’ Erdogan announced June 2. ‘This thing called social media is currently the worst menace to society.’
Unfortunately, what Erdogan dubs a “menace” to society is in fact a new world order of sorts, and one he will need to get used to if he is to continue governing in the 21st century. In the case of last week’s ban, his actions badly backfired, and as the New York Times points out, the everyday citizens of Turkey weren’t the only ones who tweeted about the injustice of a Twitter ban; the Turkish President himself who spoke up (on Twitter, of all places!) as well. President Abdullah Gül quickly defied the ban after it was put in place by tweeting his disapproval (and evidencing that he understands effective political leadership in social media societies):
In the wake of this dilemma, the PM’s government has held fast to more traditional understanding of justice and lawfulness. For example, Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek announced that, “The Turkish telecommunications watchdog has made a number of statements saying that they have asked Twitter on a number of occasions to remove some content on the back of court orders and Twitter has been refusing to comply. I don’t think any global company, whether it’s a media company, whether it’s an industrial company, it shouldn’t see itself [as being] above the law.”
But the Turkish people (and President) and likely most other global citizens feel that a new day is dawning.
If everyday people air their concerns on Twitter, then the PM would be putting himself above the law to try and censor those complaints. In the 21st century, when politicians betray their people or behave corruptly, Twitter uniquely allows everyday people to find common ground on their distaste for injustice. Voices that were previously disconnected and easily silenced in solitude are now impossible to stifle, as hashtags and retweets allow information to spread at the speed of light across distance and divisions.
It’s still important to keep an eye on the power and the pitfalls, even as “successes” like Turkey’s play out across our desktops and smart phone screens. One can imagine that while much “uncovering of the truth” can now occur in the Twitter-sphere, it is possible that the network indeed makes it easier to launch non-factual smear campaigns, spread hateful feelings and messages, and incite violence and anger that could destabilize communities and countries if left unchecked. The tough part is, we’re voluntarily creating and entering a space that will not be policed by any one authority. We’re expected, to a large extent, to keep ourselves in check—to stay civil and respectful even in the case of corruption and injustice.
Do you think we’re capable of self-managing this “new world order”? What pitfalls have you observed, or do you anticipate? What positive powers have you experienced, or hope will become a reality? We would love to hear your thoughts, and we thank the people of Turkey for their bravery and citizenry over the past week’s events.
“Field Notes” is weekly global news commentary by Everyday Ambassador founder and director Kate Otto. To stay up to date on current events and the latest posts from this series, follow #fieldnotes on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.
Image Credit: Phandroid.com