As anti-government protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square intensified in May and as demonstrators increasingly grew impatient with Turkey’s traditional media coverage of their movement, they turned heavily to social media channels to draw attention to their cause.
A study by NYU’s Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) laboratory found that, over a 24-hour period in late May, “at least 2 million tweets mentioning hashtags related to the protest, such as #direngeziparkı (950,000 tweets), #occupygezi (170,000 tweets) or #geziparki (50,000 tweets) have been sent.”
The analysis, conducted by NYU doctoral candidates Pablo Barberá and Megan Metzger, noted that this social-media phenomenon differed from its recent predecessors—notably “Arab Spring” in 2011.
“What is unique about this particular case is how Twitter is being used to spread information about the demonstrations from the ground,” wrote Barberá and Metzger. “Unlike some other recent uprisings, around 90 percent of all geo-located tweets are coming from within Turkey and 50 percent from within Istanbul. In comparison, other studies estimated that only 30 percent of those tweeting during the Egyptian revolution were actually in the country. Additionally, approximately 88 percent of the tweets are in Turkish, which suggests the audience of the tweets is other Turkish citizens and not so much the international community.”
The study’s authors attributed the rise of social media usage to perceptions of traditional news media coverage in Turkey.
“Part of the reason for the extraordinary number of tweets is related to a phenomenon that is emerging in response to a perceived lack of media coverage in the Turkish media,” they observed in early June. “Dissatisfied with the mainstream media’s coverage of the event, which has been almost non-existent within Turkey, Turkish protestors have begun live-tweeting the protests as well as using smart-phones to live stream video of the protests.
“This, along with recent articles in the Western news media, has become a major source of information about this week’s events. Protesters have encouraged Turks to turn off their televisions today in protest over the lack of coverage of the mainstream media by promoting the hashtag #BugünTelevizyonlarıKapat (literally, ‘turn off the TVs today’), which has been used in more than 50,000 tweets so far.”
Barberá and Metzger posited that this development marks a turning point in the role of social and traditional media—one in which channels such as Twitter are, in fact, displacing, rather than merely supplementing, newspapers and television.
“Where traditional forms of news have failed to fully capture the intensity of the protests, or to elucidate the grievances that protesters are expressing, social media have provided those participating with a mechanism through which not only to communicate and exchange information with each other, but essentially to take the place of more traditional forms of media,” they wrote. “Further, this documentation through multiple sources in public forums serves to provide a more accurate description of events as they unfold.”
The study generated significant attention, with coverage in Time magazine, BloombergBusinessweek, and TechCrunch as well as in publications based in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Greece. The post also received more than 26,000 page views on the Monkey Cage site, and an animated YouTube video by Barberá showing the location of Tweets in Istanbul over time has received over 20,000 views.
SMaPP, funded by a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, was established by Faculty of Arts and Science professors Richard Bonneau, John Jost, Jonathan Nagler, and Tucker. It is examining the impact of social media use on political attitudes and participation by applying methods from a range of academic disciplines. SMaPP is composed of faculty from the Wilf Family Department of Politics, Department of Psychology, Department of Biology, and Department of Russian and Slavic Studies as well as NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
The project’s research findings and other news will be posted on its Twitter feed (@SMaPP_NYU). For more on SMaPP, go to: http://smapp.nyu.edu/.