An anti-government protester holds a Turkish national flag with a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, on it during a demonstration in Ankara

“There is this curse called Twitter”: Turkish PM thinks the 44 percent of his country using social media is a menace to society

As protests rage in the streets of Istanbul for a fourth consecutive night, the Prime Minister of Turkey is lashing out at demonstrators and their enablers—most notably, the Great Enabler: Twitter.

“Right now, of course, there is this curse called Twitter, all forms of lies are there,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an interview yesterday. “This thing called social media is a curse on societies.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan first had to deal with protesters versed in social media last week, when they rallied to stop the demolition of Gezi Park in Istanbul. The movement became known as #OccupyGezi and as police clashed with protesters and the rally became violent, many more thousands of Turks came out in full force to voice displeasure with the current administration.

Vocativ crunched numbers to find out just how many Turks are on social media:

  • 37 million people, or about 50 percent of the whole population, use the internet in Turkey (editors’ note: this post originally had that at 44 percent)
  • 7.2 million are on Twitter, about 10 percent of the general pop
  • 32,775,240 Turks are on Facebook, 44 percent
  • of those, about half are in the 18 to 24 age group

The role of Twitter in the spreading Turkey protests has captured some international attention, similar to the use of social media in the Arab Spring. While the demonstration in Istanbul’s Taksim Square did start because of the park’s planned demolition, it has since spread to encompass general disapproval of Erdogan’s rule and fear that his conservatism is moving the country toward more Islamism, and less secularism. “Is Taksim the next Tahrir?” read the headline from half a dozen news organizations.

A quick study from NYU shows that Erdogan may be right about the impact of social media on Turks: so far, it seems to have an even bigger role than in Egypt during the Arab Spring. Whereas about 30 percent of the tweets with Egypt hashtags were geotagged from within the country, a significantly higher 90 percent of Turkey-related tweets are coming from inside. That seems to disprove the other part of the Prime Minister’s theory, that foreign influences are responsible for ginning up the outrage that people are currently expressing. At least one person has died and over 1,700 people have been arrested since the protests began.

Local media is coming under fire for not covering the protests while international media have, another reason many demonstrators have encouraged each other to report every incident on Twitter.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, PM Erdogan himself tweets to 2.75 million followers @RT_Erdogan. That account is not yet verified (and this weekend’s comments probably won’t speed up the process).

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