TWITTER against SEX, LIES and TAPES in Turkey: A lesson in democracy and tyranny. by kumru toktamis

4:06 PM

With a deep-running inertia left over from the ways and means of last century, I do not tweet. I consider all personalized social media an ontological scream against human frailty and mortality and a futile exercise attempting to overcome the longings created by the complexities of in-person contacts and connections.  Yet, I do understand the personal need to reach out and make a mark under the circumstances of post-modern anxieties and uncertainties. Here the “post” stands to indicate the promise and claim of modernity for order and certainty. I am not sure, through their social media communications individuals are seeking for meaning, certainty and order or just coping with the therelackof those promises, but clearly folks do find meaning and means of social activity and political activism, so be it.  Now these outlets are our habitus (a la Bourdieu), an essential part of our life world (a la Habermas), critically structuring our social existence (a la Giddens). And as the students of social relations from previous centuries have warned us, rulers are trying to limit, encroach, violate communicative products of human creativity, politicizing the social media activities through their intrusions.

On March 21, 2014, Turkish government banned the Twitter, giving Turkey the honor of becoming the second country in the world after China to do so. Perfectly fitting to the actions of tyrants of all sorts, as all people living with tyranny folks in Turkey do not actually understand the grounds for this action other than the democratically elected Prime Minister of Turkey, R.T Erdogan’s screeching to his supporters that he will destroy the roots of the Tweeter and he does not care what the international community may say about it. Now acting less like a democrat and more of a majoritarian leader, and his party facing local election at the end this month, the prime minister is engaged in a battle heralding his political expiration against his former ally the Gulen movement, a community and network of faithfuls around a reclusive yet pretty vocal religious figure residing in PA, USA.  Since December 2013, allies of this movement have been engaged in what seems to be strategic releasing of secretly taped conversations of the members of the cabinet with their family members and journalists, revealing a network of sleazed corruption that amounts to millions of US dollars and shady connections.  

It was never clear who, under what authority banned the Twitter in Turkey. First it was a court decision, later it was a prosecutor connected to the Government Communication’s Agency, then, it was the Government itself when Twitter refused to delete some inappropriate accounts… What has become clear within 24 hours after the ban was that the tweeting traffic in Turkey was reported to have tripled with 2.5 million a day or 17.000 per minute, as reported by HootSuite, a company that measures and analyzes Twitter marketing campaigns. Facebook, cellphone companies and many other social media sites joined in providing information to customers how to go around the ban with new DNS numbers and continue tweeting. Posters were put up throughout the streets of several cities guiding users to change their internet domain settings. These posters were treated as political graffiti by the security forces. The President of the Turkish Republic, A. Gul, tweeted stating that he does not approve such bans on the social media while warning citizens against using cursing on the social media. Tweets full of Rebelasian laughters, using humor and satire as a means of resistance in the face of harshness of the emerging authoritarianism bloomed across the country. The ban proved to be useless only proving the boundaries of the Prime Minister’s misplaced anger against his opponents who, he claimed, were using social media to slender him with corruption accusations.

It is also not clear what exactly compelled the government to take action against a popular social media forum. Was it the ongoing rumor about an affair between a former beauty queen and an actress/model and the Prime Minister?  Was it the release of a taped conversation alleging one of the most outspoken and vocal government officials, Egemen Bagis manipulating his twitter statements in a manner that amounts to desecrating public’s religious sentiments and Quran, -that seems to have angered the parliamentarians of the governing party so much that they forgot the party line which repeatedly claimed that these taped conversations were “doctored” and fake? Or, is it a pre-emptive act against growing rumor that the in-party opposition is about to release some sex-tapes of the members of the cabinet probably recorded during an official trip to Iran? Whatever the actual triggering factor is clearly it comes from a Sex, Lies and Videotape location of the collective consciences that the ruling party JDP is sharing with its public. 

Three days into the ban, Turkish society is still tweeting vigorously. The taped conversations of the cabinet members conspiring corruption are still widely circulating in the social media. It is a moment of democracy, because people resist and contest, rejecting government’s violation of their rights. But it is also a moment of populism not necessarily feeding into the foundational measures of democracy and freedoms. Yes, the continuously released tapes, if genuine, are revealing a habit of pillaging and plundering of public resources by the members of the cabinet, including the prime minister himself. The Prime Minister’s claims that these tapes were doctored repeatedly fail tests of credibility in the absence of law suits and court actions that may have proven him right, while increasing circumstantial evidences indicate that the tapes are real. On the other hand, enthralled and mesmerized by the sleaziness of these conversations, the public and the intellectuals do not seem to bother by the fact that listening to the taped private conversations is now taking the civilization 200 years back. Like flies flocking over a piece of cow dung, Turkish society has been listening into their elected officials’ private dealings with dirty money and soon probably sex. Yes, the dung is dung, but the political participation of the Turkish public has been reduced to flying over manure through this populist campaigning most likely run by the Gulen movement, rather than actually taking political action led by the opposition parties.  It seems to escape everyone that if the citizens have means to tune into the private conversations of the government officials that immediately implies the government’s looming power over the citizens’ freedoms and privacy.

Some members of the  opposition in Turkey claims that this corrupt Prime Minister still has some sort of a “hard-core” following that does not phase away with these allegations of corruption and his increasing authoritarianism. However, in the face of his brazen statements against the mourning mother of 15 year old Berkin Elvan who died in mid-March following nine months in life support after being hit on the head by the police during Gezi protests; his belittling statements attacking the social media and this futile ban against Tweeter, the Turkish Prime Minister’s support, even the most hard-core one seems to be pulverizing. If there indeed such remaining support to help him win the upcoming local elections, then that would mean a real fascist threat for Turkey.  Because authoritarianism is more than just a bunch of oppressive tyrants; it is the massive public support to such politicians that actually feeds fascism and makes it a real political force.

Yet, so far amidst increasing social, political and legal controversies, the resistance against the ban on Twitter reveals the people’s ability to successfully contest power and the futility of tyranny in the face of people’s resistance. Democracy starts when tyrants encroach, limit, intrude... so people resist, create and overthrow. In that sense, maybe tyrants are greater contributors to democracy, more so than the mediocre, goingthroughthemotions technocrats! 

Now, I am going to open a tweeter account, start my first tweet with this message and join the resistance because social media is more than a personal need; it’s political resistance. OK, it may have taken me awhile to realize that ;-)

Brooklyn NY

Kumru Toktamis is Adjunct Associate Professor (/CCE) in the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies.

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