Turn Off Your Televisions!

by Sofia Hafdell on October 15, 2013

in Participatory Journalism,Social Movements

While there is a whole debate going on about whether social media improves our understanding of social and political events, many would agree on that social media allow for wider participation. Blurring the line between media consumption and production, as discussed by media scholars such as Mandiberg (2012), social media may be the key tool to actively post, share, comment, and interact online as well as an alternative to mainstream news reporting. The #OccupyGezi movement shows us how.

OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

The #OccupyGezi Movement

What started on 31 May 2013 as peaceful protests against the government’s plans to destroy Gezi park, one of few remaining green areas in the central business and tourism location of Taksim, spread within hours to become a regime critical, nation-wide movement following the police use of force to disperse demonstrators.

The mobilization of people happened much thanks to social media. According to the New York University’s Social Media and Political Participation (Smapp) Data Report, the Taksim protests are unique in that Twitter was used to spread information about the developments on the ground. The words #direngeziparkı and its English version #occupygezi was mentioned 4 million and 1,9 million times respectively only during the protests’ first days. 90% of the Tweets about the Occypy Gezi movement came directly from Taksim, Istanbul and other places in Turkey, states the Report.

This can be compared with the Egyptian revolution in 2011 where one of the most popular Tweets, #jan25, was mentioned in less than one million tweets throughout the revolution. Only some 30% of the Twitter users were posting updates from Cairo, says a Starbid research.

For Erkan Saka, associate professor at the Faculty of Communication of Istanbul Bilgi Univeristy, the Gezi protests is a turning point for the use of new media.

”The use of social media increases on a daily basis in Turkey, but to rely on social media as news reporting may have become central for the first time in Turkish history since the Gezi protests”, says Saka. “Primarily it is a tool to mobilize people on the streets but it also replaces mainstream media in news reporting as the latter is exposed to a government forced media blackout”.

With the hash tag #BugünTelevizyonlariKapat (“Turn Off the Televisions Today”, in English) on Twitter, the Turkish populations outcry over mainstream media channels’ reluctance to report live from Taksim square went public.

Participatory Journalism

Social media in this sense can be seen to facilitate forms of alternative and activist media, discussed by Lievrouw (2011, p. 120) as participatory journalism, with its purpose to cover events that do not get fair or enough coverage while criticizing mainstream media reporting.

While it is early to say whether the participatory journalism visible in Turkey this summer holds the values and non-biased character that mainstream journalists would hold (see critiques to participatory journalism in Lievrouw, 2011, p. 128ff), it shows “the act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information” (Lievrouw, 2011, p. 128).

Relating to Jay Rosen’s (2012) discussion of “The people formerly known as audience”, the ways in which social media was used by citizens during the Gezi protests show an example of “participatory media” and the shift from one-way broadcasting to interactive participation among citizens.

What’s your view on the role of social media for social change, or in supporting participatory journalism? Please share your opinion by commenting below. And check out the motion “Social Media Improves Our Understanding of Major World Events” here.

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