24 September 2008
Facebook is a way for people around the world to network and keep in touch with friends. But in Turkey, Facebook has taken on a new dimension as a political pulpit. Dorian Jones reports for VOA from Istanbul on the growing political power of Facebook in Turkish politics.
Col is a young woman living a secular life in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. She fears the right to a life without religious pressure is threatened by the government. But her generation grew up in the 1980s in the time of military rule, in Turkey with zero tolerance to traditional platforms of civic society. Facebook, Col says, is now enabling people to overcome that legacy.
"In democracy, I believe civil society is a big need and they must be very active," she says. "But you know we don't have this feeling of going and becoming a member of such groups. But people are now acting as individuals and creating such groups.
And how useful is it to her?
"It is good to know that you are not alone," she says.
But it is not just opponents of the government who are fighting it out on Facebook.
A demonstration last July in the heart of Istanbul against attempts by Turkey's constitutional court to close down the ruling AK party. It was organized by the civil rights group, Young Civilians. The demonstration along with most of the group's other activities was organized through Facebook. In fact, the whole movement was born on Facebook, says Ceran Kener, one of the founding members of the group.
"Actually before we had an office we had an Internet group, so I believe the Internet and different tools of the Internet, they serve this young people in a very positive way, because we don't have assets we don't have capital. But we have a tool for free, and we can reach people through this tool," said Kener. "Some people know Young Civilians but they were not interested in activities they just wanted to be a member of Facebook. Then they started to participate in activities, so Facebook is a very important tool for us."
But this Facebook revolution is not only confined to the city's well-educated youth. Berke Bas, who teaches media studies at Istanbul's Bilgi University, says all of society is now getting connected.
"With this transmission of information, maybe it will help Turkey to be a more democratic society, but there is also the danger that it will create more division within society, because nobody wants to listen to the other," said Bas. "When you create your group your Facebook, when you refuse and you deny all the others , with other political points of views then we cannot talk about democratization but we can only witness a divided country taking shape even on the internet."
But Kener doesn't share such concerns. She sees Facebook and other social Internet groups as a powerful tool to challenge the growing threat of political apathy among Turkey's youth.
"Political apathy among young people is much related to how young people perceive politics as a job of old men. But I think Internet is based on mutual relationship. In Facebook people are using their initiatives , they are writing comments they can talk with people. You cannot write comments when the president is talking on the television," added Kener. "But you find a way to express yourself. We have a mail group and it is so vivid. So many people are making comments about so many issues. These people have some ideas when they find a way to express it they do express it so Internet is an important thing.
Facebook along with other social networking groups is set to play a key role in the next chapter in Turkey's struggle for democracy and human rights. The government has committed itself to replacing the constitution, which was written by the military. Already the discussion about what that constitution should be is proving deeply divisive. For now at least the jury is out on the question of whether Facebook groups are empowering the people, or adding to the polarization of Turkish society.