Occupy Gezi: How Twitter Facilitated a Social Movement in Turkey

Last summer in Turkey, a small protest over the removal of trees in Gezi park began a large movement trying to protect one of the last green spaces remaining in the heart of Istanbul. The movement resulted in 1,900 people being arrested and nearly that many were reported injured. Social media served as the primary source of information for citizens. We interviewed Yalçın Pembecioğlu of Bigumigu about how the movement sparked and what it means for social media in Turkey. This is part of our SXSW Data Stories, where we’re interviewing presenters about their data talks. Yalcin is presenting on #Occupygezi Movement: A Turkish Twitter Revolution.

(Gnip is hosting a SXSW event for those involved in social data, email events@gnip.com for an invite.) 

Yalçın Pembecioğlu of  Bigumigu

1. How did Twitter help create the #Occupygezi movement?

During the start of the event, none of the broadcast networks covered #OccupyGezi. Not even a little bit. I guess this encouraged people to take control and be their own media. Suddenly, everybody started to take and distribute pictures and videos from the places that events took place. The content from citizen media went viral in seconds.

2. Why would people choose Twitter over mainstream media as a source of information?

If the information is coming from someone you trust, it is very important information. During #OccupyGezi, people have seen the cold brutal face of the mainstream media. Our friends were on the streets and they were telling unbelievable stories. We have decided to believe our friends and families, instead of the mainstream media.

3. How did the #Occupygezi movement respond to rumors via social media?

It was emotionally devastating to see the police brutality towards the protestors. At those kinds of times, I guess people become more tolerant to biased information. But many of us, including me, spent hours on the computer to decipher the dirty data into real bits of information. Hence the term “kesin bilgi mi?” was born in the Turkish internet. It means “is it a confirmed information?”. During #OccupyGezi, when important information came up, we were all asking questions to confirm it, and if it is confirmed, then we spread the information, if it’s not, we were warning the source to double check the data. Now it’s like a common meme on the internet to reply any joke as “kesin bilgi mi?”. We have learned not to trust everything on the internet in a quick course.

4. After #Occupygezi, how did the use of social media change in Turkey?

The most popular social media platform is Facebook in Turkey with over 30 million active users. After #OccupyGezi, penetration of Twitter has accelerated. It is said that nearly 1 million new accounts were created during the #OccupyGezi weeks. It is believed that Twitter has around 9 million active accounts in Turkey. A society, which was very comfortable in symmetrical networks discovered the power and potential of unsymmetrical networks.

5. Overall, what does social media mean for revolutions?
Social media is the place for individual voices. It is very important for revolutions, because via social media we see there are thousands, millions of people out there just like us. I am not sure that the social media will be easily spoiled by power holders in the future, but for now, it can be the single source that an individual’s voice can be heard.