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Citizen Journalist: How Social Media Reveals the Truth in Turkey

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by Robert McCaffrey

Peaceful protests that started in Istanbul on Friday 31st May have rapidly escalated to violent clashes in 60 Turkish cities. The Turkish people had taken to the streets and at first no one could even explain why.

Mild civil disobedience in Taksim Square, a small park in the Capital was quashed with too much force by the establishment. Protesters hoping to save the park from being turned into a shopping mall, were brutilised with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Normal citizens who might not have cared were suddenly outraged and moved to action.

Cem Batu the Founder of an advertising agency, explained his motives for taking to the streets in an open letter to the Turkish leader, "My dear Prime Minister, I was an apolitical man; then how come I took to the streets? Not for two trees. I rebelled after seeing how, early at dawn, you have attacked those youngsters who were silently protesting in their tents. I took to the streets because I do not wish my son to go through the same things and I would like him to live in a democratic country."

After the Arab Spring it would be easy to look at what is happening in Turkey right now, sigh, nod our collective heads and return to scanning our Facebook feed for anything to alleviate the boredom of the daily news. We've seen it all before right? The Military dictatorship overthrown by an unstoppable public passion.

Only this isn't the same. This is an entirely new beast that is showing where the real democracy lies. It lies in the social media feed - the one we carry with us in our pocket all day long, the one we check on average 14 times a day. Facebook and Twitter have been at the forefront of recent rebellions from Brixton to Egypt, operating as an easy way to mobilise and organise protesters. However, there is another purpose they serve and that is the transmission of the news when the news is biased.

Social Media is an unedited truth of what is happening in the world around us and when that truth gets ugly the feed gets real.

Turkey, which incidentally is no military dictatorship but a democratic constitution, established a national television network not unlike the BBC in 1996. Named NTV, and partnered since 2000 with MSNBC, it reacted to the chaos by placing a finger in each in ear, tightly shutting their eyes and shouting 'I can't hear you, you're not there'. Refusing to cover the protests and giving a disproportionate amount of positive coverage to the government, it became a target of protest in it's own right. Staying true to form NTV refused to meet with, acknowledge or engage with, the hundreds of protesters gathered outside it's studios of course. 'Na-na-na, I cant see you'.

But the truth was all over the social media feeds. Maybe unedited, unconfirmed and amateur but citizen journalists all over Turkey reported what they were seeing and the true picture came through. Protests in Turkey 2013 collates eye witness accounts, pictures from the streets and foreign news stories for public dissemination. Just clicking through the Twitter media gallery of the Voice of Turkey and the story unfolds one image at a time.

A CCN iReporter said, "The Turkish media has been silenced and it is up to the rest of the world to help spread the word of these civilian attacks. Notify your local and national media, and tag them on Twitter to make them speak the truth about what is happening. This is a for humanity, no less."

All this while the official CNN Turkey TV station showed a documentary about penguins ignoring the civil unrest. What are penguins famous for? Being flightless birds. Well despite CNN and NTV refusing to give the story wings it still succeeded in taking flight.

Unsurprisingly, Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed Social Media is to blame for provoking the protests, neglecting to mention that some of his own unpopular policies have contributed. In Turkey the Government talked of making the morning after pill available only on prescription, banning abortions, and went ahead with a restriction on alcohol sales and a ban on kissing on the Turkish underground. The once liberal Mayor of Istanbul had grown into an authoritarian Prime Minister who ruled by fear. Steadily moving the country away from everyday freedoms and towards state censorship and paranoia.

Using a crowdfunding site protesters have raised enough money to take out a full page advert in the New York Times to explain their case to the world. Facebookers, crowdfunders, tweeters and citizen journalists are holding their elected leaders to account showing that democracy is about the ruled, not the rulers.

This is no Arab Spring but instead a renewal of a country who's secular democratic Government got drunk on it's own power, drifting into the realms of authoritarianism. The Turkish leaders are being held to account, tried before an international jury of people like you, reading their smartphones or trawling websites on their laptops.

Social media is the great egalitarian movement of our age that makes everyone's voice a powerful and dangerous weapon.

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