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Turkish Government Recruits "Social Media Representatives"

Turkey’s ruling party is trying to boost its social media presence through recruiting a 6,000 member social-media team to persuade citizens about their party policies and to try and fight the critics of their policies. This move comes following the challenge to the party’s rule in June 2013, when hundreds of thousands of Turks started protesting in the streets against the autocratic governing style of the Turkish Prime minister Mr. Erdogan. However, their strongest threat was not the protests they rallied on the streets, but the one they fought online. The Turkish police may have overcome the protesters using force on the ground, but only now has the Turkish government decided to do something to target how social media exacerbated the protests.

Image www.nypost.com

Mr Erdogan’s party, The Justice and Development Party [AKP], plans to recruit a 6,000 strong team of young, tech-savvy party members who will be able to act as volunteer “social-media representatives”. Their task will be to share news and images, mainly on Twitter and Facebook, but also on more visual platforms like Instagram and YouTube. These social media platforms will be used to promote the party’s perspectives and politics, and will be used as a method of monitoring online discussions, according to a party official. 

This has not been the Turkish party's first attempt at controlling social media as previously YouTube, Google Docs and Books, and Vimeo have also be subject to Turkish censorship. Google's Transparency Report from last November also shows that Turkish requests for removal on websites rose to 1,013 percent over the previous year. However, the plan for this new team of social media volunteers shows an attempt to monitor behaviour online without imposing a ban or a great deal of censorship. Instead they hope to gradually infiltrate the minds of the young citizens who are most prominent on the social media networks through placing a lot of positive content about the party on these sites. 

A senior party official responsible for organizing the campaign commented that “we aim at developing a positive political language which we are teaching to our volunteers… and when the opposing camp spreads disinformation about the party, we correct them with valid information, always using positive language”. Does this suggest that the Turkish AKP party is using social media as a form of political propaganda? 

This new use of social media to tackle political critics suggests an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach by the Turks. This shows a realisation that the “Gezi protests” were so powerful because of their use of Twitter to organise, campaign and to bypass the government censorship, making social media a viable news source for the first time in Turkey. The AKP party was caught completely off-guard when the protesters used social media to organise their campaigns, and got round the censorship which had meant the protests were barely reported on traditional media forms like the television. This led the protesters to live-tweet about the protests, using hashtags to unite forces. They also used their smart-phones to upload photos and videos of the protests over social media platforms, getting around the lack of television coverage by the government. The party hopes that if the disruptions re-occur at the time of the upcoming elections they will now be able to deal with them better.

Image - www.bbc.co.uk

Mr. Erdogan has 3.4 million Twitter followers himself, however, still calls the site “a menace” and has commented on how the social media site fanned the flames of unrest during the Gezi protests. He even commented “there is this curse called Twitter. It’s all lies … That thing called social media is the curse of society today”. However, he hopes to control this ‘curse of society’ by infiltrating it with the messages of his volunteer social media representatives, who he hopes will help to encourage positive thinking for his party. But will this approach work to stop any further unrest in the future?

What do you think?

Can political propaganda through the use of social media work? Will this help quell any more potential protests?

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Turkish Government Recruits "Social Media Representatives" Reviewed by Anonymous on Wednesday, October 09, 2013 Rating: 5
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