Social media’s unexpected role in Turkey coup attempt

Turkey endured a coup attempt on July 15. The first ugly sign was the blockade of two of Istanbul’s bridges by tanks and military trucks.

Subsequently, the headquarters of the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey (MIT) and Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) were assaulted and Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport entrances were blocked by armored vehicles.

Nobody could tell exactly what it really was until the announcement by Prime Minister Yildirim on TV. He called the series of events “an attempt” that had been carried out by a minority group embedded in the military.

The commander in chief of the TSK was taken hostage by the plotters and the National Assembly building was bombed a couple of times by jets while around 150 MPs from various political parties including the president of the assembly were inside.

While events were unfolding at an increasing pace, President Erdogan managed to contact CNN Turk, which is generally known as an anti-government TV channel, at midnight and made his first address to the people through FaceTime and people flooded onto the streets according to his call despite the curfew declaration by the junta.

Our virtuous people did not return to their homes until the next afternoon.

Their aim was not only to protest but to give a helping hand to our brave police officers and patriotic soldiers to thwart this attempt.

That night all Turkish citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, came together as one and prevented the coup plotters from succeeding.

We can comfortably say that it was our bold people who put their lives at risk and foiled this attempt and turned this night into a festival of democracy as mentioned by Prime Minister Yildirim.

Even though there was a twohour-long blockage of social media accounts, the total tweets posted on July 16 were 18,666,000, more than triple an ordinary day.

Social media played a major role in foiling this attempt. It was easier for people to be informed about the spots where the plotters were and where to head to help people in places where coup forces gathered.

When the Turkish state official TV channel TRT and CNN Turk were occupied by the plotters, people were informed of the situation via social media and they quickly took action to help those in need.

Another thing worth mentioning is that people acted as one body to protect our state despite having different political views. They were present whenever and wherever they were needed.

Through Periscope and Facebook Live, people as well as media organizations were able to live stream the situation in the streets and therefore supplied accurate information to the public instantaneously.

As a gift from Turk Telekom, the Turkish cellphone service provider, extra data allowances were provided in the morning for every subscriber.

We are not the only ones to admit the positive impact of social media on crushing the coup attempt in Turkey.

Andrew Selepak, director of the social media master’s program at the University of Florida, said, “Twitter and social media may have prevented the coup from taking place”.

Similarly, former FBI assistant director Chris Swecker accepted social media’s role and stated, “Twitter and the like enabled he [Erdogan] and his followers [military included] to counter-punch and react effectively.”

When actions last longer than expected, people become more prone to provocation and social media seems the easiest way to manage such incidents.

Regrettably, disinformation in social media was one of the primary factors that instigated the clashes during the Gezi Park protests three years ago.

Similarly, on July 16, the morning after the attempted coup, a great deal of fabricated information was shared on social media again to stir up the public, just like during the Gezi Park protests.

This was indeed a night never to be forgotten with undesirable scenes and clashes against the plotters targeting the civilians. Our people should have been on alert given the experience they had during the Gezi Park protests.

To name a few fabricated posts, photos from coup attempts from previous years from other countries were plagiarized and shown as if the incidents took place in Turkey on July 15.

We once again witnessed the crucial influence of modern technology when used in a positive fashion. Decades ago people would not have been aware of the events unfolding during such attempts.

I can tell this from a country that has undergone many coups and coup attempts in history.

Now through the help of social media people were very conscious of events going on around them and they knew how to share what they heard and saw.

The increase in the use of social media and communicating through it will intimidate those who harbor ill plans for future attempts. We once again experienced that democracy won.

Politicians, party leaders, NGOs and ordinary citizens were shoulder-to-shoulder regardless of their worldviews.

Everyone should realize that we are a country integrated with brave and daring soldiers, a fearless nation and honorable police officers.

We will never let any evil-minded circles take away the democracy we enjoy in our beautiful land.

When actions last longer than expected, people become more prone to provocation.

The writer has authored many books on politics and religion.

This article first appeared in The Jakarta Post

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