By JONATHAN POLSON
The idea is posited constantly, by young people inspired and obsessed with growing technology and by older generations fearful of the massive attention given to the internet and smart phones: social media is changing the world.
Regardless of whether one’s argument is in favor of or vehemently against the expansion of technological connections, the reality is constantly becoming more difficult to deny.
The Turkish government’s ban on Twitter last Thursday, the ability of Turkish citizens to bypass this restriction through texting tweets and the international reaction to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rhetoric and action against free speech all exhibit the significant change social media is playing in the modern world.
A Turkish court ordered the ban to be lifted on March 26, and Turkey’s Constitutional Court is currently planning to discuss instances of website blocking since Turkey’s Constitution grants the right to Freedom of Expression and Dissemination of Thought. Despite this right, the country’s policies do not reflect this freedom.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other country. Furthermore, Erdogan’s ban of Twitter is a result of the recent emergence on the site of audio that connects the prime minister to a major corruption scandal.
Ever since accusations of corruption against Erdogan increased and spread online, he has pronounced a hard stance against social media platforms, previously threatening to ban Facebook and YouTube as well.
Erdogan, who has led the country’s leading AK Party since 2003, claims that the recordings are fabricated and that Twitter continually refuses to comply with national court orders to remove defaming and offensive content.
Erdogan’s defense is clearly an attempt to manipulate the situation in the midst of the country’s elections, yet his actions are being questioned around the globe.
Turkish citizens were able to circumvent the Twitter ban by utilizing the site’s SMS service to text in tweets. This resulted in a worldwide trending topic, “#TwitterisBannedinTurkey,” which elicited comments from the U.S. State Department, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even Turkish president Abdullah Gul, all reprimanding Erdogan’s actions.
The situation in Turkey proves that it is becoming more difficult for governments to restrict speech and access to information as global social media sites provide a previously unavailable opportunity to share and promote information.
The significance of Twitter is that, as both a private and global company, individual countries cannot regulate the site.
Twitter is a U.S. based company, and undoubtedly aligns with ideals of free speech, yet it is not a promotion channel for democracy throughout the world. Twitter, like many other social media sites, allows for a global dissemination of ideas, beliefs and information.
The goal is not to limit content to one viewpoint, but to instead increase an open flow of diverse discussion.
The potential of Twitter and similar sites of social connectivity is therefore understandably terrifying to governments hoping to maintain control of their citizens’ outlooks. If the recordings of Erdogan’s corruption involvement surfaced on a site only available in Turkey, then the Turkish people’s rights would be suppressed with no capability to spread the news of the situation or interact with international support.
However, Twitter uniquely enabled the globe to see what was happening and respond. Turkish citizens were thus able to remain a part of the discussion and the government was unable to discreetly hide their actions.
The connections social media allows are often overlooked until situations like these occur. Social media should not be credited for the Turkish people’s strength in overcoming the obstruction of their rights, but it should be noted that Twitter helped strengthen their fight by allowing them to remain within the global discussion.
Through social media, people across the globe have the opportunity to seek out variant ideas and participate within a global discourse. Twitter is not trying to connect people across the world on the basis of shared ideals; rather, it is attempting to connect people on the basis of sharing ideals. Social media promotes discussion, not conformity. The Turkish citizen’s social media “revolution” displays Twitter’s power to promote awareness and discussion of situations across the globe.
Social media is constantly expanding, and while the potential various platforms provided to promote free speech are not accessed by all users on a daily basis, the situation still developing in Turkey is a clear example of the way Twitter and other sites can be used to increasingly connect the world and generate powerful global discussion.