Freedom of speech is not high on the shifting priorities list of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And after he chastised "every kind of lie on" Twitter — and blamed almost everything else but his government for the outbreak of violence across his country — at least 25 people have been arrested this week for messages of protest, perhaps centered on a few videos or one photo, that they've posted on the social network. "Nine of those arrested were detained in the city of Izmir. It remained unclear which comments on the microblogging site prompted the detentions," the Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported. As we explained on Tuesday night, the origin of social-media messages has been difficult to track down in the eight days of spreading resistance in Turkey, but the western coastal city of Izmir has been featured in several YouTube clips purportedly showed police delivering beatings to protesters.... (Warning: graphic.)
As the DPA notes, it's extremely unclear, given the chaos as misreporting out of the country, which pieces of social-media protest got these 25 people arrested — or if their arrests are tied to more beyond, you know, free speech. Right now, of course, thousands upon thousands of Turks are tweeting messages speaking out against Ergodan, who said on Sunday that the violent uproar was due in large part to social media:
There is a problem called Twitter right now and you can find every kind of lie there ... The thing that is called social media is the biggest trouble for society right now.
Protests continue to be organized on Twitter, and users have captured brutal scenes in person and shared them on platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook — as any protester would do these days. But this movement and Erdogan's political pushback erupted because of the violence and the tear gas police used on environmentalists and protesters on May 28, not because of Twitter. That just raised the profile.
"Polis raided 38 addresses and took the ones they captured to the police station," reported CNN Turk (with a translation via Reddit). "Sixteen people are taken into custody for encouraging rebellion using social media and making propaganda ... It is reported that the number of people in custody may increase while the police is still questioning the ones taken into custody."
But again, it's remains almost completely unclear what these tweeters did or who these tweeters are — reports only suggest that they furthered the protests from their accounts. The terms "encouraging rebellion" and "making propaganda" aren't really specific, and considering Erdogan's aversion to Twitter and protesters in general, those terms could be broad and encompass things like retweeting protest plans, or circulating photos of the violence. "If that’s a crime, then we all did it," Ali Engin, a local representative from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in Izmir, told the DPA.
If you look at tweets coming out of the country, a popular meme is getting passed around — and it seems that people were arrested for tweeting this specific photo:
That'd be troubling if true. But that hasn't been verified.
Perhaps more troubling is the free-speech crackdown that could follow, and make Turkey's moment so much different from — and at once similar to — the Arab Spring protests to which it's already been compared: Could the Turkish government eventually crack down on text messages and phone calls? Will Turkey do what the Egyptian government did in 2011 and shut down the Internet and cell phone service? That didn't exactly work then, and that's unlikely to quell protesters now.
Update: Erdogan's website got hacked — because he doesn't understand his digital enemy.