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[liberationtech] An analysis of Gezi Parki

Anne Roth annalist at
Mon Jun 17 14:14:24 PDT 2013

The Power of Social Media - The Helplesness of Traditional Media and
#direngeziparki #direnankara, #direnizmir: An analysis of the
Alternative Informatics Association (Alternatif Bilisim)

Residents of Istanbul started a peaceful sit-in as a reaction to the
city governments plans to demolish Taksim Square's Gezi Park on the May
29th 2013. The demolition was part of the plan to replace the park and
construct a shopping mall on one of the only green areas left in the
central cross road of Istanbul. The reaction was sparked by a decision
making process that lacked any consultation with citizens. Inhabitants
of the city initiated this on-site protest to raise their voices against
the demolition plans, but also to exercise their right to freedom of
speech and to freedom of assembly in a democratic society.

The first assault on the peaceful sit-in on May 30th was followed by a
brutal police intervention on May 31st, during which protesters were
exposed to disproportionate and excessive force. News of the events and
police brutality found national and international support in social
media as hashtags appeared in Twitter's trending topics, such as
#direngeziparki (resist gezi park) and #occupygezi. Shortly after,
several Facebook groups attracted thousands of supporters. As the news
of increasing police brutality trickled in, protests spilled into public
squares across the country and around the world.

Meanwhile the traditional media kept silent. They muted their
microphones, turned the cameras elsewhere and ignored the unfolding
events at Gezi Park and around the country. This has been due to the
almost monopolistic, concentrated ownership of media channels; the
dependence of the local media moguls on the government; and, fears of
retaliation from AKP (the ruling political party) which has proven to be
intolerant of any social, cultural or economic criticism. If the media
covered the protests, then it was only to re-utter the official line
stated by the government, turning the private media to the communicator
of the provocative language used by the government officials.

These developments led people to rely more on the Internet and
especially on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Vine). Masses
have since turned to these outlets in order to get informed about the
latest developments, and also to act in solidarity with the initial
protesters. On May 31st, Twitter and Facebook were used to organize
further gatherings in prominent public spots in Istanbul to protest the
police brutality in Taksim. Similar initiatives brought people together
at Ankara's Kugulu Park and Guven Park and in Izmir. These protests were
again met with excessive and disproportionate police force.

Throughout the last days, social media has been used to report the
police brutality occurring in every city and to demand support for the
ever popular public protests. Citizens of all walks of life have joined
ranks in squares and streets; they have used social media to defy the
silence of the mainstream Turkish media. In fact, Gezi Park protests are
an exemplary moment in which social media has connected the squares
across the country, surpassing any dichotomous reading of "social media
vs. the streets."

Why Citizen Reporting Via Social Media is Gaining Force and How?
#korkakmedya (coward media) and #buguntelevizyonuacmiyoruz (we will not
turn on the tv today)

Following the events on May 31st, the protests and the violent assaults
of the police upon its citizens started to spread into other
municipalities and cities. Ever since, people of all ages, professions
and political perspectives have been gathering spontaneously in public
spaces to protest the police brutality and the (lack of) political
consciousness that the current government has been displaying. People
have created hashtags specific to each city in order to help thousands
to coordinate help and urgent needs, document police brutality and
inform the public. People have been using Twitter, Vine, Facebook and
Tumble to share videos, document evidence of police brutality, and
provide instructions for getting medical help and finding safe zones. As
such, citizen journalism performed using social media has been playing
an instrumental role in filling the gap left wide open by traditional
media over the course of the protests.

For the first time in Turkey, mass self-communication has been happening
on such a large scale. This self mass-communication, based on the use of
mobile applications and social media platforms, has once again
emphasized how important citizen journalism has become. This is
especially true in environments where political parties like the AKP may
come to dominate the political sphere and apply censorship to
traditional media.

In response, the government has shown its willingness to turn its heavy
hand to social media. On June 1st Facebook and Twitter were unreachable
for TTNet users, the largest Turkish ISP serving the majority of the
population. As a response new hashtags such as VPN and DNS have been
created and instructions have been provided on ways to bypass technical
obstructions, such as Deep Packet Inspection and filtering, that can be
used by ISPs, i.e., TTnet.

On the Benefits and Limitations of Social Media for Organizing

In this historic moment, which we can call the "Gezi Park movement,"
several dynamics are at place with respect to mass political
organization. Specifically various parts of the society that could no
longer raise their voices due to current government's hegemonic
practices have turned to social media in the following ways: In response
to traditional media's acceptance of the hegemony of the current
government, citizens have not only come to use these alternative
communication channels, but to celebrate them as well. Mainly using
Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Vine, people have given pluralist accounts
of the events using creative slogans. Databases have been created to
collect evidence of police brutality and the compiled documents have
been distributed via blogs, open folksonomies (such as Eksisozluk) and
other mass communication platforms.

Free/Open Source software has been developed and used to distribute
information in the case of emergencies and requests for aid. The source
code of these programs has also been distributed in social media. In
case of potential blockage of social media tools, open DNS and VPN
information have been communicated: technical solutions to technical
barricades. Despite the severity of the situation, social media has been
used to amplify the the carnivalesque tone of the public actions. People
who were exposed to excessive violence, who were injured, who were taken
into custody, those who lost their relatives turned the Internet and
social media into a machine to expose the irony at the core of the
events. The protestors comical accounts of their acts of resistance,
their injuries and their successes created minor myths in which irony
and humor came to overturn the government symbolically. There are many
examples of this, including calling Gezi Park the BeatingPark, a dog
with a sign saying "If there are no parks, I will shit in a shopping
mall," "If there is so much gas, the shit will be dumped soon," "Hilmi
from Toma," (replacing Roma (Rome) with Toma the water canon), and sound
recordings of police-radio conversations with ultras after the latter
hijacked Tomas, and the list goes on.

Citizens also turned to poke fun at the outlets that were stifled by the
governments rough practices: some citizens called 911 and ordered tear
gas while others called the Turkish CNN to request a re-run of a
documentary about penguins (CNN Turk, as almost all the other TV
channels, ignored the protests and instead showed a documentary about
penguins - by now its own minor myth). All of these acts helped create a
media language that helped people surpass their fear threshold some of
which can be found under the following urls:


These developments in citizen journalism and participation in social
media had their own complexity. Although social media provided a
discussion platform and a medium for simultaneous communication, several
political groups have tried to benefit from the "stand-up for Gezi Park"
civilian movement and have also behaved unethically in social media.
Further, when social movements are organized over decentralized or
distributed information flows, sometimes there can be an overload of
information from the various perspectives, leading to
mis-representations or biased reporting. The explosion of information
aggregators, not all of which have been well kept, sometimes have given
rise to distrust in the given sources or to statements made on social
media. Moreover, the freedom in creating your own hashtags, the numerous
possibilities for feedback, the creation and spread of radical thought
have also not been free of hate speech. This has also been reflected on
some posters and graffiti that contained sexist, discriminatory and
insulting material.

Social media use has also not been limited only to those who are in
support of the "Stand up for Gezi Park" movement. During the last weeks,
those who align themselves with the current government have taken to
intervening in social media by obstructing information flows or through
censorship. Especially on Twitter, we observed the introduction of false
news that have been manipulated to become "Trending Topics." On a
related note, some people went as far as using hashtags to disinform the
public. This occurred especially with respect to news about severe
injuries and deaths, which due to their emotional hook were quickly
spread by social media users. Yellow journalism hit a turning point when
some claimed that police officers had resigned from their posts
following the violent interventions. Disinformation had especially
dangerous consequences when it turned out that instructions for safe
zones, lawyers and medical help were actually run by police forces

We fear that such interventions are likely to cause social panic and
distrust in citizen journalism. Further, these complexities make it
evident that the failure of mainstream media to fulfill its duties has
played an important role in propelling disinformation. In response to
such unethical uses of social media, it has become the responsibility of
the populace to remain calm and take steps to confirm the
trustworthiness of the source, especially prior to distributing information.

An important response to social media "trolling" has come from opinion
leaders. These included journalists of mainstream media, who, due to
censorship in their usual outlets, have had to reposition themselves in
social media; as well as the artists, politicians (especially Sirri
Sureyya Onder of BDP) and other prominent supporters of the "Stand up
for Gezi Park" platform. Once more, this has shown the crucial role that
opinion leaders have in developing good information disclosure practices.

Despite these challenges, it is important to mention the hard work of
those people who have successfully used social media to report on the
disproportionate use of violence, those who have gone to great lengths
to gather reliable evidence, those who have upheld hashtags which
allowed the linking of these sources (#direngeziparkı, #direnankara
#direnizmir), and those who were committed to disseminating trustworthy
news (and warnings against disinformation) to all citizens. In all these
media practices, especially through the use of mobile services, we
observe the development of a healthy reflex and intuition against trolls
and disinformation.

For examples of some of these noteworthy initiatives, please use the
links below:

Evidence gathering on disproportionate and excessive police violence:

Bogazici Radio (Bosphorus Radio)
Mobile Reporting in Ankara:

Real time access has received a special role in the reporting of the
events. Specifically, the use of platforms like Ustream that enable
mobile broadband internet access by allowing people to report in real
time, also makes it possible to mitigate the spread of disinformation in
social media. When real time broadcasting is not an option, then there
is still the alternative process of documenting the events through
on-site recordings, e.g., photos, videos and sound bites. Especially
when violence is asserted and people are in commotion, it is not trivial
to record these interventions. The precondition for documenting such
moments is the presence of multiple recordings from various angles which
eventually need to be pieced together. The challenge here has been to
ensure that when these recordings are pieced together, they will be
reliable sources of evidence of what has taken place. As the traditional
media continues to turn a blind eye (and ear) to the events and does not
take any conscious steps to challenge what seems to be a prime case of a
chilling effect, more people in Turkey are more likely to contribute to
the production of content to report on the events. We can call the
production of all this material a sign of the prosumer revolution.
The Role Social Media Plays in Overcoming Information Asymmetry

An ultimate advantage governments have over peaceful protests is
information asymmetry. That is, in the course of mass protests during
which people demonstrate their discontent about the actions of the
government, the latter may have access to macro or micro level
information about the protests whereas the prior may be situated in an
information vacuum. By macro level information we refer to nationwide or
international analysis of the protests or information about the nature
of the protests in different geographical locations. On the other hand,
micro information refers to information about the whereabouts of
law-enforcement officers, the injured, safe-zones, etc.

The government may put macro and micro information to use when
strategically deploying law enforcement. This information can increase
the efficiency of the government to suppress the protests -- in some
cases using violence or using the threat of violence. This sort of
information is usually not accessible to protestors, especially during
the kind of spontaneous protests that we are seeing in Taksim. Most
people that have joined the protests in Istanbul and elsewhere have
neither met each other previously, nor do they have experience in
organizing public protests. In a democratic society, the mainstream
press may play an important role in informing the citizens on at least
the macro level analysis of the events. However, as we discussed
earlier, the mainstream press in Turkey has simply vanished or has been
providing reporting that is to the detriment of the people on the
streets. It is exactly under these conditions that social media provides
its users with the ability to instantaneously broadcast micro and macro
level information to wider audiences. Consequently, although the reach
of the social media channels is only limited to "users," leaving a good
portion of the population dependent on mainstream media and their
information policies, its impact on the protests has been substantial.

The instrumental role that social media has played in the protests that
quickly spread across the country has also been recognized by the
government, albeit rather negatively. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan declared that Twitter and social media are a "menace to
society." In so doing, the Prime Minister treated social media platforms
as the scape goats of the protests. Shortly after his announcement a
number of tweets and status updates that had no confirmed sources
started trending in social media. These were later used in government
campaigns to underline the unreliability of social media platforms as
information outlets. In a democratic society, we would expect social
media to be hailed as mitigating information asymmetry. The Turkish
government has decidedly seen it as the source of the problems it is

In this landscape, we have concerns that arise both from the use of
social media in organizing the protests and the governments' associated
position. It is imminent to think of the causes of these concerns and
how these concerns can be addressed. Most importantly, concerns can be
raised with respect to any limitations on the use of social media that
can be imposed through the combined use of filtering and DPIs. The
public is not well informed about the abuse of net neutrality and the
associated use of DPI by the ISP monopoly TTNET. Government officials
have also boldly announced that they could have imposed even stricter
measures, claiming that they could have "shut down the Internet".

Further, we are observing a reduction of social media use to mainly
Twitter and Facebook (and to some extent tumblr and vine). Activists
have limited access to Free/Open Source software tools and to web
applications outside of the integrated services like Facebook. Most of
the population have never received training on how to use secure
communication channels and encryption. This coupled with the increased
national and international surveillance of social media poses potential
risks of harassment, profiling, and targeting to those who are active

Given the way hashtags are mediated algorithmically or through
collective sharing practices, we are also concerned with respect to
possible limitations on media pluralism and the representation of
minority positions while using social media. If what emerges are closed
conversations, and that coupled with hate speech (especially among
younger users), social media is likely to get critical attention. It is
exactly these weaknesses of social media and information sharing
practices that are invoked when the government wants to give social
media a bad rep and dismiss it as a public outlet. These matters need to
be countered both among social media users and when these matters are
manipulated by the government to dismiss the importance of social media
for a democratic and just society.
The Necessity of Developing Online Tools for the Activists

Twitter, which served as the main communication platform during the Gezi
Park protests, announced that it would not apply any form of censorship
towards its Turkish users. While service interruptions occurred
occasionally, there was no proof that this was caused by Twitter.
Furthermore, the Turkish state, other than the few interventions
discussed above, have so far not taken any draconian measures on
limiting access to the Internet. Nevertheless, online tools which are
used to organize and communicate have become so essential to the protest
movement that we cannot leave it solely to the discretion of commercial
parties, such as Twitter. Therefore, it is imminent that we recognize
the need for alternative platforms, create new tools and develop plans
to guarantee the availability and resilience of a diverse set of
communication networks. We know from the "Arab Spring" how interruptions
and surveillance can be damaging to protests and post-revolutionary
struggles. Authoritarian governments have a track record of cutting down
communication channels with the outer world, before brutal interventions
and, at times, before committing massacres. In order to avoid a black
out, we can develop back up methods like dial up connections, and design
robust anonymous and decentralized subnetworks. Having fast and reliable
hubs that could relay between the protestors and the rest of the world
would also help protesters to reach the outer world in face of black
outs. comes to mind as a microblog alternative. Next to
blog/photoblog sites such as Wordpress and tumblr, developing
e-mail/tweet/sms tools that are easy to install, use, and secure, could
also play an important role in resisting mass censorship. sms2tweet
services provided by the Chamber of Electrical Engineers (EMO) is also
something that we should mention. Twitter SMS services, which are
currently provided by all the GSM operators in Turkey, also provides an
opportunity to tweet when the Internet is unavailable. How this service
can be used is explained on the websites of the operators.

In spite of the many tools available and in use, centralized and
corporate technical infrastructures can be vulnerable to state controls
and censorship that are counter to the interests of citizens. The events
show that in Turkey, but also around the world, there is a need for
communication tools that are not totally dependent on such fragile
technologies and companies that are susceptible to government
surveillance plans . It is more necessary than ever to develop such
tools and infrastructures to keep the citizen's voice in the public.

The following are instructions on how to reach the internet and social
media services in case of a black out:

Dial Up Numbers: Tel. No: 0046850009990 User: telecomix Password:
telecomix Tel. No: 00492317299993 User: telecomixPassword: telecomix
Tel. No: 004953160941030 User: telecomix Password: telecomix Tel. No:
0033172890150 User: toto Password: toto Tel. No: 0046708671911 User:
toto Password: toto Tel. No: 0031205350535 User: xs4all Password: xs4all

Tweets via SMS send an ams to 4730 the sms should start with EMO + empty
space + your tweet


Username: vpnbook Password: rac3vat9

Server #1: (Anonymous VPN) Server #2: (Anonymous VPN) Server #3: (UK VPN –
optimized for fast web surfing; no p2p downloading) Server #4: (US VPN – optimized for fast web surfing; no p2p

Further Resources:

Alternatif Bilişim Derneği

5 June 2013


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