Blocked Social Media to the Rescue: The Showdown in Turkey and the Futility of Digital Disarmament

TurkeyPresidentMany woke up this morning to the disturbing news of a failed military coup in Turkey. What has been described as a black stain on Turkish democracy, shocked the world. I followed the developments in real-time, watching a disheartening story unfold before my eyes. It’s unceasing. For the second time this week, I am in disbelief at yet another tragic loss of human life.

I noticed a stark shift in the way media is spread and consumed. Traditionally media has spread and been consumed by major news networks. We depended on them to keep us informed. The power of media to influence public opinion is well understood. Media shapes people’s attitude, beliefs, and behaviors. Just look at where most election funds are spent.

That’s all changed. The media narrative has shifted dramatically over the years. We are now reliant on eyewitnesses who report breaking news via social media and livestreams more than any legacy media. And those first-hand news sources are gaining credibility and public favor.

That’s why the Turkish government’s block on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube during the first few hours of the military coup are predictable, and reprehensible. The legacy news sources could be trusted to report in an acceptable manner. Everyday citizens could not—at least not by the government. This governmental action is telling.

However, many simply turned to Periscope or WhatsApp. The lesson learned is that digital disarmament is futile. We have far too many communication tools at our disposal to effectively disable us. Turks caught in the crossfire taught us this.

State censorship of social media and citizen news sources reveals the potency of this evolution in media. The images, writing, and videos influence local and global opinion in a measurable way. That’s why there’s an attempt to control this emergent news narrative.

But it’s an uncontrollable force. We thirst for live information. Newsrooms are forced to rely on user-generated content and curtail their narratives to cope with the deluge of first-hand reporting. This effect is precisely the reason that freedom of the press was ratified.

State censorship is a nefarious tool, but it’s not all-powerful. An increasing number of tech savvy users circumvent such blocks through another DNS service. There are also options to use a VPN or the Tor browser. These methods allow anyone to appear as though they are browsing from another country. Thus rendering the blackout useless.

Now professional journalists, editors, and broadcasters can collaborate remotely with everyday citizens to report accurately on breaking news. As a member of the digital publishing industry, I don’t see this as cause for alarm.

The true mark of a professional reporter is knowing when to step back from any situation, analyze, and provide insight beyond the superficial. That critical and necessary skill set is not obviated by first-hand reporting.

Together, legacy news sources and everyday citizens can end the tyranny of silence that blights so many of our vulnerable. Even if legacy news sources don’t jump on the bandwagon, I believe that our voices are heard more today and every before.

Ironically, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, who is well-known for being an opponent of social media, used both Twitter and Facebook to urge supporters to fight for their country.

President Tayyip Erdogan implored citizens to take ownership of their democracy and their national will on a FaceTime video that was broadcast on TV. This ultimately insulated him. Cherry picking, no doubt.

We can now see horror through someone else’s eyes. This week’s successive horrors showed us more than my heart can bear. I find solace in the hope that technology will be a conduit for unity in times of tragedy, for empathy, for change.

Source: Anurag Harsh