Less than two months after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan temporarily banned Twitter, citing the social network's potential to foment chaos and instability in his country, his worst fears have come true.
In March, Erdoğan asserted that the since-failed ban would demonstrate “the power of the Turkish Republic,” and the step was widely perceived as a desperate measure to undercut growing opposition to his rule in the wake of ongoing corruption probes and last year's Taksim Gezi Park protests over land use issues in Istanbul. But social media- savvy Turks quickly learned how to get around the ban and it was overruled by the courts in April.
And their use of Twitter exploded in the wake of Tuesday's explosion and fire at the Soma mine, helping guide journalists in their coverage of the story, exposing government inaction on worker safety issues and helping coordinate protests around the country.
It is rare that a day goes by without a Turkish hashtag appearing on Twitter’s real-time list of trending worldwide topics. For instance, on Thursday, the hashtags #BuYumrukHepimize -- which translates to “this fist of us” -- and #AklimizKalibimizSomada ("our hearts, our minds in Soma") exploded on the social media site.
The hashtag was used by Turkish Twitter users to vent their frustration over the mine explosion amid reports that Turkey’s ruling party in parliament squashed a proposal from an opposition party that called on mines in western Turkey to be inspected just two weeks before the incident.
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Erdoğan, who ironically uses Twitter himself, has been highly criticized on the social media platform. While that has been the case before the Soma disaster, the tragedy has magnified Turks’ attitudes toward their prime minister.
On Thursday, Turks were tweeting their shock after learning of reports that Erdoğan punched the relative of a Soma miner after she shouted “murderer” at the prime minister.
#BuYumrukHepimize do not be silent, next could be u... Erdogan punchs his own citizens...
â€” Tuncay Akyüz (@TuncayAkyuez) May 15, 2014
#BuYumrukHepimize Turkish WILD Prime minister Erdogan punched Turkish citizen in Soma because they call him to resign! SCANDAL
â€” Serhant (@serhant) May 15, 2014
Turks are helping shape coverage of their country through Twitter, although there are also a number of journalists based in Turkey giving up-to-the-minute updates on the situation on the ground and embedding photos, such as police using water cannons on protesters and other scenes of unrest. And there’s countless media outlets who rely on the Turkish people to share their lives with the rest of the world.
Now, even Erdoğan's administration has given in: His official account, @RT_Erdogan, which is likely maintained by officials of his Justice and Development Party, has sent three tweets since Monday. Two of them defended government policies of reassignments in the police force and the judiciary. The final one, addressing an unnamed enemy, asserted that Erdoğan is not afraid.