Viral Twitter, YouTube Posts Help Fuel Massive Turkish Protests

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The ongoing protests in Turkey against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been the talk of social media lately.

While most of Turkey’s mainstream media has largely downplayed or ignored the protests altogether, many netizens in Turkey have filled that void by giving their opinions and eyewitness accounts of harsh police crackdowns on Twitter and YouTube. What started out as a small protest in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, over the government’s plans to convert a city park into a shopping mall and museum, the protests—better known by the hashtag #OccupyGezi, and named after the park that the government wants to build over—have spread nationwide and has become a strong message against Erdogan’s conservative policies.

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Erdogan largely blamed social media for the ongoing unrest, going so far as to call Twitter a “scourge.” He told Turkish television: “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”

Turkish police have treated Twitter users who shared photos and videos of police brutality as menaces to society. Recent reports from the Voice of Turkey Twitter account and other sources suggest that police have arrested dozens of people across the country. Some have been arrested for merely retweeting an image of police officers assaulting two girls in a seaside city. Other viral images from the protests, such as “the lady in red,” whose face was doused with tear gas by police, evoke similarities to photos from the Occupy and Arab Spring protests.

Besides Twitter, YouTube has been a popular platform for supporters of #OccupyGezi and have shown the world the extent of police brutality in the tumultuous country. One of the more viral videos coming out of the Turkey protests shows a police officer shooting a lone protester with tear gas; another video shows a police vehicle, equipped with a water cannon, nearly running over demonstrators.

Social media sites like Twitter and YouTube have brought the Turkey protests to a global audience and it remains to be seen whether the Turkish authorities will crack down even more on “the worst menace to society.”

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