What was my state of mind, position, and role from May 31, 2013 onwards when the peaceful Gezi protests turned transformed into a wider social movement? As a politically engaged Turkish citizen living abroad, I follow news on Turkey sporadically, meaning frequently and extensively during periods of important events and less or not at all otherwise. In this sense, the days leading up to the Gezi protest belong to the former category – I had been following the series of measures the AKP government had been taking. Honestly, I was getting quite worried and quite unsure where this all would lead to. How would the freedoms of the minority be protected in a democracy where the ruling party and prime minister were clearly interpreting democracy as the rule of the majority? As such, psychologically and emotionally it did not surprise me that people poured to the streets – all the built-up tension and anxiety finally exploded.
A turning point in the events was when it appeared that the mainstream Turkish visual media would not report on them as the events unfolded. That is when the social media entered the picture and facebook became a real community as many of my friends were now constantly online and active. (I focus here only on facebook as I do not use twitter.) As I could not be physically there on the streets, I have taken up the role of being a facebook activist – If the media was not reporting, then I would.
I had never seen facebook like this – posts were streaming down my screen. Though I did my best to read and look at everything on my news feed, I had to be selective in what I was sharing. Four major types of posts could be identified among those my facebook friends shared:
- Emergency news: These reports were a live coverage of what was going on in and around Taksim and included information on how to reach medical help, food, solutions to relieve the effects of tear gas. They helped me judge the emergency and scope of events, but I did not share them as I could not verify them from such a distance.
- Negative videos/pictures: These were images of police violence. They made me realize how cruel the police got. I chose not to share them as I did not want to distress and discourage my friends.
- Positive videos/pictures: These included images of crowds gathering, heroic acts of help, revolutionary humor and music. They often made me cry as it was so touching to see how people get into a community spirit and how the best of their will and creative ability comes to the fore. They were my favorite, and it was a pleasure to share them as they gave hope and power.
- Commentaries: These were either personal comments on the events or analyses made in written Turkish and international media. I enjoyed reading my friends speak up, and I became outspoken myself, which was unusual for many including me. As I realized how difficult it was to read long commentaries in the heat of the moment, I limited the number of such posts to a minimum when the activity level was high on the ground and on facebook. I started sharing more of these in the ‘aftermath’ of the Gezi protests.
While I was totally hooked on my laptop or smartphone screen for days, I was terribly aware that I was just seeing the activity of either very active or ‘like-minded’ friends supporting the actions of the protesters. This time I found it especially problematic: Some of my friends remained silent – Did they not care? Were they disapproving the actions of the protesters? Were they avoiding ‘trouble’? On the other hand, I barely saw alternative views on my news feed. I could count 4 out of 450+ friends. Were my silent friends online? If they were online, were they seeing my posts? How about the disapproving ones? Were they only seeing disapproving posts like I was seeing supportive posts? How about those who do not use the social media? Were they just watching Turkish TV and believing it?