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The importance of social media in Turkey has increased considerably in recent years, which in turn has led to a mounting interest in the phenomenon and its overall impact on the Turkish society. Sharing her opinions on the matter, Gulay Ozkan, a Turkish internet and mobile entrepreneur, suggests that the increasing popularity of social media is mainly to do with the large percentage of young people in the country’s current population.
Different types of social media, such as Facebook or Youtube, can indeed be very appealing to young people all over the world. Turkey is a country where 70 percent of the population is actually under 35 years of age, a fact that makes her explanation both valid and rational. “Social Media is a very hot topic at the moment as it brings freedom to a culture that traditionally is shy”, Gulay says.
She lays emphasis on the idea that social media offers free and open communication, which is perhaps the aspect that appeals the most to young Turkish users. Currently, the most popular social network in Turkey is Facebook. The popularity of the well-known networking website rose to such an extent that Turkey has now become the fourth largest nationality on Facebook in the world.
However, Twitter and personal blogs have also gained popularity recently. Turkey’s mobile penetration is larger than internet penetration, which is an immediate consequence of people’s using mobile phones to access their favorite social networks. Gulay also predicts that this trend will grow even more in the future.
Increasing internet censorship is still a problem in Turkey, a situation that has led to numerous protests organized by youth groups. Although some networks such as Youtube may still be banned there, the restriction does not seem to prevent young Turkish people from freely accessing it by using DNS switching and other proxy settings.
This can be interpreted as a sign that the population is ready and wishes to open up to the new form of communication. In fact, it has been this extensive use of social media which have allow Turkey to join the global community. Information spreads far easier and faster via different kinds of social media outlets than via traditional media or educational platforms.
The importance of social media also extends to Turkey’s public relations campaign. There are many instances when international public opinion on Turkey have been shaped and influenced through the use of social media, which should propel the country to engage more in the use of social media as a means of promoting its own image.
One such example is the case of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan abruptly leaving a panel discussion on Gaza with Israeli president Shimon Peres in 2009. His gesture received a lot of media attention. At the time, hundreds of thousands visited Youtube to watch the video of the Prime Minister. Links of the video began to be circulated via Facebook, fan groups and other web applications were launched, all of them carrying the name of Erdogan.
The politicization of social media in Turkey is becoming more and more obvious. Many analysts recognize the role social media is starting to play in politics. “For the past two years, as the political environment has become more severe, the political weight of social media has increased,” Ozgur Uckan, a professor at Bilgi University, said in an interview discussing the relation between social media and politics in contemporary Turkey.
“Blogs on the one hand and social media on the other have begun transforming into a political agora, a forum space,” he added. However, the politicization of social media is seriously threatened by internet censorship. Besides Youtube, many other websites, such as Blogger, have also been banned in Turkey. This phenomenon has led to the foundation of groups such as “Don’t Touch My Blog”
Moreover, national protests have been organized in reaction to the government’s attempts to impose internet censorship. Such is the case of the national, multi-locational protests that took place on May 15 in response to legislation planned to impose filters on internet access.
“I think we will see more of these sorts of interactions in the future,” says Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Bilgi University, who also added that political parties themselves have begun using social media in their campaigns.
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