Last night, as you could have already seen, since it was everywhere, an attempt of military coup, that turned out unsuccessful, happened in Turkey. Who is behind the coup? Did coup ever stand a chance? Is coup a solution for improving Turkish democracy, or, to be more precise, to bringing it closer to the idea of Western democracy? Well, I will not go too deep into that. But, what I find fascinating is the role social media, live coverage, and FaceTime played in the last night’s events. Really really fascinating.
If we still remember the Arab Spring, and the hope of democracy and freedom it represented at the time, of course, way back in 2011, before Libya turned into whatever it is today, Egypt fell into chaos, and Syria into a terrible war, we must remember the role that social media played in mobilizing citizens and bringing them on the streets, to show their revolt. Social media, Twitter in particular was the most important instrument in mobilizing people and spreading news, the truth, or propaganda, that heavily affected the public opinion. We all know how the whole thing ended: In complete destabilization of the whole region, making us question democracy, the role of individuals and masses, and the role of fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of speech. Unfortunately.
Turkey is quite famous for having a tradition of shutting down the Internet, and access to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, on multiple occasions. We can condemn it, and say how undemocratic that is, but, let’s face it, after the experience of North African countries with the so called Arab Spring, no government of AKP kind would take that much risk and let it all stay open. Still, something quite different happened last night. When I reached out to my friends in Istanbul via Facebook Messenger, the first thing I asked was, of course, if they are OK, and if the Internet and social networks have been on all the time. They said that the Internet went slower at some point, and they expected the networks to be shut down, but that actually didn’t happen as events unfolded. There have been reports in the media that the social networks have been shut down in some areas at the very beginning of the coup attempt, and then later opened. My friends didn’t experience the ban. People communicated and sent the news out using Twitter, Facebook and playing live videos on Facebook Live, and when the army took over TRT, the national TV station, and the signal was shut down, Erdoğan did something historic: he used iPhone’s FaceTime and addressed the nation LIVE from an undisclosed location, speaking to private TV stations, through the phone, using FaceTime, calling for people to come out on the streets and “defend democracy and peace”. But, wait, imagine that you were organizing a coup, wouldn’t you turn off the Internet first? I guess, that is a whole other thing to think about!
But let’s go back to Erdoğan and his online adventures! He also addressed people via Twitter and Facebook. It is funny how Erdoğan used the tools he likes to ban from time to time, by banning access and shutting down signals. But, it stops being funny when we realize how serious it is that more leaders around the world are using the power of social media and technology to implement their agenda and send out their message. Even more astonishing thing happened today, just a few hours ago, when Erdoğan sent out “a mass text message to Turkish mobile phones imploring Turks to stand up for democracy and peace”, setting a wonderful example of sms marketing in politics. I wonder what is next, and how is Erdoğan going to use the social media and technology in some future events that suit him for strengthening his position and increasing his power? In the times when the only thing that can get young people to go out is Pokemon Go to catch the Pokemons, meaning, technology, it is very likely that more and more leaders, especially the ones with autocratic tendencies, will reach out for technology, social media, and channels that enable them to get to people directly, over the tracking devices they keep on holding in their hand, aka their smartphones.
One thing is for sure, after last night, nothing will ever be the same, in Turkey, and in the way leaders use technology. Welcome to ErdoğanTime.