Blue Skies: When Twitter *is* the news












I was in Istanbul when anti-government protests erupted across Turkey at the end of May. At first it was nervous-making; would the airports close? Would the government be unseated? It quickly became apparent that the violence was confined to areas like Taksim Square and the capital, Ankara. It was safe to navigate the rest of Istanbul; it was safe to keep my vacation plans in Cappadocia. But I didn’t learn these things from the news. I learned them from Twitter.

You’ve no doubt heard that Twitter spread the word in a country where it’s a crime to insult the Turkish nation. What that meant for me as a visitor was that I stopped watching the BBC News in my hotel, because it seemed days behind and woefully incomplete, continuing to show Day One film on Day Four and failing to give same-day updates or engage in analysis. (The network did, however, stop the presses several times a day to inform me about the threat that Bitcoin virtual currency poses to traditional banking.)

It also meant that the participants of our conference, the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, were often unable to tweet the quotes and advice they were hearing from fellow global business leaders. We simply couldn’t get access, even with our wireless connection boosted to the hilt. At first I imagined the Turkish government was jamming the circuits, but apparently we were suffering from sheer overload.

And overloaded the circuits were, with photos and snippets of news in Turkish and English, hashtag #occupygezi. Even Russell Brand got in on the act, writing “Our leaders are trusted servants not our masters” and prompting subsequent posters to add his handle to their tweets in hopes that their news would reach @rustyrockets’ 6.6 million followers worldwide.

At times when I Googled “Turkey protest news,” the most recent article would be 11 hours old.

On Monday, Interior Minister Muammer Guler was quoted as saying that the Turkish government was crafting legislation to restrict the use of Twitter and other social media, blaming them for “provoking the public via manipulations with false news.”

It’s ridiculous, of course. I grant you that social media posts in the hours after the Boston Marathon bombing were often inaccurate, misinforming the public and leading the media on wild goose chases. But rumor and eyewitness testimony are the backbone of social; it’s the journalist’s job to shape them into accurate reportage. In the absence of the latter, Turkey’s citizens must rely on the former. And if the government attempts to restrict free expression on Twitter, it will surface elsewhere.

You know that. I know that. Surely Prime Minister Erdogan knows that. So why is he even making the attempt?

Stephanie Losee

Stephanie Losee

Managing Editor at Tech Page One
Stephanie Losee is the Managing Editor of Dell Global Communications.
Stephanie Losee
Stephanie Losee
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