Twitter, Democracy, and Facts

In this article, the author provides an update on a story about the Republic of Turkey. Apparently, according to the Turkish newspaper linked to in the article, Twitter has not been willing to take down all the content from their website which the government wants removed. Twitter has only removed a small portion of the content which the government of Turkey requested be removed. This is seemingly what has caused the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to make the decision to ban Twitter in the country. The block was implemented as planned (though of course there were ways around it using mobile devices and VPNs), and it continued until a court decision required a “stay of execution” on the decision until a final ruling can be reached on the legality of the decision to ban Twitter.

The author explains that the Prime Minister insists that the recordings of him engaging in what sounds very much like corruption that have been floating around on Twitter are faked. It’s very possible that the ban will be reinstated after the final court ruling on the matter. It’s likely that the renewed ban would be even stronger in an attempt to prevent the alternate routes already in use from being utilized. The government has already had to strengthen the ban by blocking the use of Google’s DNS servers by many Turkish citizens to work around the ban.

The government of Turkey in general and the Prime Minister in particular are in a very delicate situation here. Whether the Prime Minister is innocent or guilty of the corruption allegations in fact (and I have no way of knowing which it is), the court of public opinion may decide against him. Choosing to ban Twitter is going to give people the impression that he and/or his administration have something worth hiding from the public. In addition, it will likely damage his reputation and may well hurt his party as they try to maintain power through the course of the scandal. One of the difficulties of democracy for elected governments is that they rise or fall based on the perceptions of the public; this incident is a good example of how quickly the tide can turn against a politician when social media are employed to spread news far and wide across the nation and even the world.

This sort of thing is why American politicians have campaign staff dedicated to following their presence and stories about them on various social networking sites and in popular search engines. They know that they cannot afford to be caught off guard by something which was released online, especially when it could damage their reputation and hinder their bid for election. Many American politicians end up being haunted by things they did or said years ago which were spread around as if they were true online; sometimes the stories are true and sometimes the stories are not true, a fact which is easy enough to discover with a little time and effort. There are a number of good fact-checking websites out there for politics. The problem is that the facts really do not matter all that much to a politician’s electoral chances. What naturally grabs people’s attention and sticks in their mind is the compelling story. Many politicians know that their constituents are often not all that concerned about the facts, which may be why they are often so willing to play fast and loose with the facts in public debates and speeches. Perhaps they learned to disregard the facts because we the people do not regard them very highly.

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