They’ve Already Lost — And They Know It »« House Passes Bill Based on Crazy Conspiracy Theory

Another Reason to Love the First Amendment

The modern world is a difficult one for autocrats and dictators. With the development of the internet and especially social media networks, it’s become much harder for them to control and conceal, as we saw so dramatically during the Arab Spring. But that doesn’t stop them from trying:

“There is now a scourge that is called Twitter,” Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, on live TV. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”

He was serious. Last night, police raided 38 homes where citizens who had tweeted messages sympathetic to the protests lived—16 were arrested. Many of them are apparently teenagers. The local police apparently honed in on tweets they deemed to be propagandic, and traced them back to protesters’ IP addresses at home.

Their purported crime? Using social media to “instigate public hatred and animosity.” In reality, that means tweeting out supportive words or encouraging fellow citizens to join upcoming demonstrations. Members of the opposition party rushed to send lawyers to the prison where the demonstrators were being held, but none have been released yet.

Even with this crackdown, Erdogan will not stop the dissemination of information. I’ve had friends on Facebook posting VPNs and proxies for Turkish citizens to use to get around the blocks and avoid police attention. The only way to do it is to do what North Korea has done and just not allowed internet access at all. Welcome to the brave, and far more open, new world.

Comments

  1. matty1 says

    Something else worth knowing about the Turkish protests. Many of those involved are young women angry at Erdogan’s attempts to impose conservative Islamic values on the government.

    It’s almost enough to make you an optimist.

  2. Draken says

    With the development of the internet and especially social media networks, it’s become much harder for them to control and conceal

    Perhaps, but what good is Facebook if only makes it easier for the authorities to find not only you, but anyone connected to you? What good is Twitter if you’re hanging naked by the feet in a cold dungeon where someone’s beating your kidneys to a pulp with a rubber truncheon?

    I’m deeply cynical about this ‘The internet will save democracy’ meme. It doesn’t change shit, it only makes the torturers change their tactics.

  3. matty1 says

    @2 I’d say the internet makes samizdat easier which is a difference but you don’t expand freedom by samizdat alone and as you say it can also provide oppressors with new ways to trace your contacts (see also PRISM).

  4. says

    Draken said:

    What good is Twitter if you’re hanging naked by the feet in a cold dungeon where someone’s beating your kidneys to a pulp with a rubber truncheon?

    If that’s the standard by which anything must be considered good or useful, there are not many good or useful things in this world.

    Speedy, easy, cheap communication is what social media is good for. And speedy, easy, cheap communication helps prevent people from ending up in dungeons and helps release those in them.

    But then, you could’ve worked that out for yourself.

  5. Draken says

    And speedy, easy, cheap communication helps prevent people from ending up in dungeons and helps release those in them

    Modern ICT also makes it scaringly easy to track, trace and eavesdrop people.

    Even before the advent of the internet, in the time of the Great Middle- and Southamerican Dictatorships, we had a very good idea of what was happening in Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua and so forth. I don’t have the impression that this knowledge contributed much to their downfall. They only gradually came to an end after the Cold War (with an exception for Argentina which got an arsekicking from Thatcher).

  6. khms says

    Even before the advent of the internet, in the time of the Great Middle- and Southamerican Dictatorships, we had a very good idea of what was happening in Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua and so forth. I don’t have the impression that this knowledge contributed much to their downfall. They only gradually came to an end after the Cold War (with an exception for Argentina which got an arsekicking from Thatcher).

    Well duh – it doesn’t much help if we know what’s happening to them, especially when we have elected politicians that think dictators are their best friends. It’s the people that live where the problem is that need to know – or else we need to elect better politicians.

  7. jesse says

    Re #2

    I think the problem is not that people don’t have information in and of itself. Back in the 1980s everyone in Prague knew damned well what happened to some dissidents. And in Chile it wasn’t like nobody noticed three thousand people getting marched into a stadium and tortured to death, and the Guatemalan Mayans sure as hell knew that the Army was coming in to kill everyone and Rios Montt wanted every indigenous person in the country dead.

    Information by itself — or even the ability to spread it — doesn’t guarantee democracy. The samidzat example isn’t always a very good one in that sense. Again, the problem wasn’t knowing anything. The issue is whether people organize, and one could make a case that social media is a very mixed bag in that regard.

    Also, there’s a gigantic problem with assuming that the advent of the Internet made the Arab Spring possible, or even had much to do with it. Most people in Egypt don’t have a smartphone, much less a reliable Internet connection. The locus of the protests was not the Twitterati in Cairo but the textile workers along the Nile further upriver. The Internet had little to do with their getting fed up and organizing. In fact it was done without the Internet, largely. In societies where everyone knows darn well their electronic communications are monitored people won’t use social media to organize.

    More importantly, the American perception of the Internet use in many countries is shaped by a small cadre of people (relative to the population) who post on FB and tweet in English. It never seems to occur to everyone that if I am organizing people in Tehran I am going to do it in Farsi and that all those ENglish FB pages are probably pretty secondary to the movement.

    When you say “democracy was saved / will be saved by the Internet” you’re saying that the solutions to these political problems is a technological one. But it never is. The printing press didn’t guarantee democracy either. (In fact, plenty of pre- literate societies were plenty egalitarian and even democratic). When we focus on technological solutions to non-technological problems it blinds us to the very real work of organizing that has to happen to effect real political change, and worse, can leave the terms of debate out of the hands of the people who should be involved. That creates the kinds of “movements” that are wide but not at all deep and can’t offer much in the way of real change.

    Think of all the great protest movements of the past 50 years. Was any of them driven by some new technology? I would say not in the slightest. The Civil Rights people weren’t any better at getting people out there in the streets because of telephones (most non-whites — heck, many people generally — didn’t have one). And even relatively recent examples were remarkably low-tech. The publicity might be driven by technology– certainly it makes it easier to get the word out. But people managed to mount movements just as huge before the Internet was invented using good old telephones and (gasp) paper leaflets. And it wasn’t like the cost of leaflets was ever a reason to not distribute them.

    This perception problem parallels one that happened in Russia 20 years back. Look at the difference in the stories from people who actually spoke Russian and immersed themselves there, and the people whose sources were almost exclusively western-educated, younger, and English-speaking. “Sure, privatizing everything is a great idea!” says the man who just finished a couple of years at the Kennedy School after an Internship at Goldman, and is now a consultant. The reporters (I’m looking at you, Tom Friedman) who made that mistake weren’t able to — or interested enough — ask the factory workers what they thought.

    This is also why I get bugged by Andy Carvin a bit. Whenever he talks about this he seems utterly unaware of the huge, huge selection bias built into what he does when he says he curates Tweets. The man doesn’t read or speak any Middle Eastern language or even Turkish, so what he sees is only that which a relatively small class of people who are western-educated, tech-savvy, and wealthy enough to have smartphones and computers will say. This isn’t a horrible thing by itself, but you have to be aware of the biases that builds into your worldview.

Leave a Reply