Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan criticized Twitter and other social media networks this weekend after a small sit-in at Gezi Park in central Istanbul spiraled into a nation-wide anti-Erdogan protest - the largest since his election 10 years ago.
Erdogan said Twitter was to blame for spreading rumors of violence, which he insists he never approved. However, according to Turkey’s Andalou News Agency, more than 700 people were detained by police force and almost 200 have been hospitalized. Reports on Sunday night revealed that police officers used tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray to tame protesters in the Istanbul district of Besiktas.
Erdogan attributed the outbreak to looters, radicals and provocations of the Republican People’s Party, which opposes his administration.
“That thing called social media is the curse of today,” Erdogan said, though his 2 million Likes on Facebook and 3 million followers on Twitter tell a slightly different story. He added that Twitter was the greatest proponent of myth in Turkey, though amateur reporters are often the only voice of truth in times of political unease.
Social media plays a significant role in Turkey, where reporting by official news outlets can sometimes be unreliable. Some say Turkey may be on the cusp of its own Arab Spring, where social networks advance activist agendas.
“For the first time,” Hussein Amin, a professor at the American University in Cairo said referencing the Arab Spring, social media “provided activists with an opportunity to quickly disseminate information while bypassing government restrictions."