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Is Twitter “The Worst Menace To Society?” Turkey’s PM Thinks So
June 3, 2013
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With anti-government protests spreading across Turkey, the country's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has taken aim at a somewhat unexpected target: Twitter.

"Now we have a menace that is called Twitter," he told an interviewer on Turkish TV, Radikal reports. "The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society."

The use of Twitter and other social media sites has increased significantly since the protests began. According to The Wall Street Journal, more than two million tweets about the demonstrations were sent between four pm and midnight on Friday alone.

Observers have accused the Turkish government of censoring the media, with pro-government newspapers like Sabah leaving coverage of the protests off the front page.

Several government officials have denied the charge.

Finance minister Mehmet Simsek tweeted on Saturday: "Those claiming media blackout should turn on leading news channels (e.g NTV). They are broadcasting developments in Taksim every hour!!!"

Many people in Turkey couldn't access Twitter and Facebook for several hours on Saturday, which led to accusations the government was blocking the sites.

Turkey's telecom regulator said the problems were due to increased social media traffic, not government orders.

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Protesters gather on Sunday, June 2 in Taksim Square, Istanbul (Photo: AP)

The protests started last week in Istanbul, when four people gathered to demonstrate against the government's decision to demolish Gezi Park, a green space near Taksim Square in the centre of the city.

The May 28 demo started out small, with a focus on the environmental impact of cutting down trees in the park.

It's turned into something much, much bigger: Turkish police responded to the initial protest with a violent crackdown. Since then, anti-government protests have taken place in Istanbul, and are spreading across the country.

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Protesters march in Ankara, Turkey's capital city, on Sunday (Photo: AP)

So far, more than 1,000 people have been hurt during three days of clashes with police in Istanbul, as other protests take place in Turkey's capital, Ankara, and across the country.

Some protesters are concerned that Erdogan's political party, AKP, is trying to impose conservative Islamic values in the secular country.

The party has been in power for more than a decade, and increased its share of the vote in each of the past three elections.

But Erdogan has been accused of "muzzling the media, tightening his AK party's grip on state institutions and putting religion at the centre of politics in violation of Turkey's secular constitution," Reuters reports.

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Protesters clash with riot police in Besiktas, Istanbul, June 1, 2013 (Photo: Getty)

As it turns out, Erdogan himself is on Twitter, and he's popular there - he's got more than 2.7 million followers. You can follow him @RT_Erdogan.

For moment-to-moment updates on what's unfolding in Turkey, check out this @MashallahNews list of English language Twitter accounts covering #OccupyGezi.

And The Atlantic has a great roundup of news photos from the protests.

We've dug around to find some opinions on what the unrest in Turkey means, and what people are saying about it.

'Democratic and Islamic values clash in Turkey'
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Riot police fire tear gas in Taksim (Photo: Reuters)

Dr. Huseyin Bagci from Middle East Technical University tells RT he doesn't believe this will be a "Turkish Spring," but it is the first time Erdogan has faced strong, organized protests against his policies.

Bagci suggests Erdogan is "shocked" because "he was assuming that his policies are always right and what he's doing is good for the country."

'Moderate Political Islam' Leading Turkey to 'Moderate Shariah'
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Protesters near Erdogan's offices in Dolmabahce (Photo: AP)

Turkey's Parliament recently voted on a bill that introduces serious restrictions on the sale, marketing and consumption of alcohol. This Al-Monitor op-ed by Kadri Gursel suggests the move is part of the AKP's plan to introduce a more conservative system of government.

Gursel writes, "In Turkey, we are confronted with an ideologically motivated, extremely conservative and oppressive social engineering that is a part of the Islamic agenda of the AKP government. This project has no democratic legitimacy because it is in clear violation of Turkish rights and freedoms."

Is this the Turkish Spring? The view from the euronews Istanbul correspondent
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A man falls as he is hit with a water cannon wielded by riot police (Photo: Getty)

Bora Bayraktar, the Istanbul correspondent for Euro News, says comparisons between the protests in Turkey and the Arab Spring uprisings are inaccurate, despite similarities like the use of social media and protests.

One major difference, Bayraktar says, is that Turkey "has a working democracy," unlike the countries involved in the Arab Spring. Still, he points to "problems with freedom of the press arising from the structural relations of the media bosses with the government," and suggests journalists "are economically defenseless before their bosses and against political leadership."

Ultimately, he says most of the people in Taksim Square are not "looking for a revolution and a quick resignation of the government" - they just want their voices heard and respected.

Ten Tweets On The Hypocrisy Of The Turkey Protests
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A woman opens her arms as police use a water cannon to disperse crowds on June 1 in Istanbul (Photo: Getty)

Muslim Matters has gathered ten Tweets that it says expose the hypocrisy of protesters in Turkey.

The post's anonymous author says "I do not condone violence against protesters," but suggests that protests against "the most stable, economically successful and popular democratically elected government in the Middle East" are not what they seem.

Using ten Tweets as examples, the author argues the protests are "an attempt to instigate a coup against a civilian government," and suggests there is an anti-Islamic agenda at work.

How Democratic Is Turkey? Not as democratic as Washington thinks it is.
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Crowds gather in Taksim June 1 (Photo: Getty)

This Foreign Policy article suggests the ferocity of the protests in Turkey is a surprise to many in Washington, who often talk about how the country is an "excellent model" or "model partner," and "more democratic than it was a decade ago."

While there is some truth to that last statement, authors Steven A. Cook and Michael Koplow say the AKP has worked to "cement its hold on power and turn Turkey into a single-party state."

In Turkey, Protesters Say Prime Minister Has Gone Too Far

NPR has a radio report from Peter Kenyon in Istanbul, who offers some context on what's happening on the ground.

Kenyon says the majority of protesters are simply tired of the PM's "my-way-or-the-highway" approach.

He says he's spoken to people who voted for Erdogan in the last election, but who now see the government "falling prey to power intoxication."

Related:

#WatchYourStatus: Social Media Status Updates Lead To Arrests, Fines, Legal Proceedings

Twitter And Censorship: What Does Freedom Of Speech Mean In The Social Media Age?

Crackdown In Syria Described As Savagery

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