Charles Bukowski wrote:there's a bluebird in my heart thatwants to get outbut I'm too tough for him,I say, stay in there, I'm not goingto let anybody seeyou.
Sure, this was long before Twitter. Nowadays, our "bluebirds" are all out, especially in Turkey. According to research company eMarketer, Turkey is the country with the highest Twitter penetration in the world. While Turkey's Internet population is 36.4 million, its Twitter users are estimated at 11.3 million, giving a Twitter penetration rate of 31.1 percent.
Certainly, Twitter's importance as a tool for freedom of speech was confirmed last spring in the Gezi Park protests in Turkey, when a civil movement emerged against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). While the mainstream media was deaf, blind and mute, many people used Twitter to share photos and videos of what was happening in Turkey and to distribute their opinions and messages about the situation. Thus, Twitter received Erdoğan's attention, as he declared it a "menace." He even said: "The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society."
Now the Turkish government is preparing new regulations that will make it easier to seize data from online companies and identify individual Internet users. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration and U.S. companies could have prevented this in Turkey. Yet, according to Cynthia M. Wong, senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch, "The U.S. provided the Turkish government with a roadmap for conducting secret mass surveillance and conscripting the help of the private sector."
At the same time, we heard a rumor last September that Erdoğan was recruiting a 6,000-member social media team to fight his critics, according to party officials. The AK Party gradually brought young, tech-savvy party members to Ankara to train them as volunteer "social media representatives." Their duties would be to share news and images, mainly on Twitter, to organize a strong Twitter presence in an effort to lead the social media.
Then the Taraf daily announced last week that, according to AK Party sources, the party actually "hired" a large number of people to tweet as ordered when it failed to organize the party's grassroots supporters the way it had expected. At the same time, the party decided to open an advertising agency to finance its paid Twitter users' network. This new agency will prepare the AK Party's public announcements and press statements, becoming self-sufficient as a business operation, Taraf claimed.
It is probably not a coincidence that the decision was made when the hashtags against the government plan to close private prep schools dominated the Trending Topics list of Twitter. Because the Hizmet movement operates in more than 150 countries, these hashtags, which were mostly supported by the movement, exploded on Twitter. The AK Party's hashtags to defend the ban were insufficient.
It seems that "speaking Turko-tweetish" is a new avenue of communication for Turkish people. And this cyber-conversation, with words, pictures and links, is becoming more real than the basic methods we used to employ. I realized this fact when I talked to my aunt over the phone, as she has no access to the Internet. Thus, she had no clue what, exactly, is going on in Turkey at the moment. And, as I suggested to her, I believe everybody needs to learn tweetish to awake to this reality: Twitter is the most valuable avenue for free expression. When you use the right hashtag, mention and key words, it is the most effective way to reach out.
Remember that, even though Erdoğan called Twitter a "menace," he is an active user, as are other AK Party members. I read President Abdullah Gül's tweet the other day which said, "Just met with fmr US Energy Secretary and Governor Bill Richardson and had a nice chat on social media and Twitter." Honestly, I wonder what they talked about.
Menace or savior, you have the right to chose. "The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny -- it is the light that guides your way," said Heraclitus. So far, Twitter stands for equal access to knowledge and ideas for all. I think, therefore I tweet. So please do the same. It's about time you mastered your Turko-tweetish. Start!
Follow Arzu Kaya Uranli on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AKUranli