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Blocked Social Media Ultimately Came to the Rescue – The Showdown in Turkey

Many woke up this morning to hear the disturbing news of a failed military coup in Turkey. What has been described as a black stain on Turkish democracy shocked the world. We all followed the developments in real-time as the story unfolded before our eyes. For the second time this week, we have shaken our head in disbelief at the tragic loss of human life.

This information from all over the world has traditionally beamed its way into our homes through radio or television sets. In the past, the first target in any conflict was the disabling of state media. This first maneuver reveals just how dominant the control of information can be in shaping people’s attitude, beliefs, and behaviors

The narrative of news has changed dramatically over the years. We are now tuning into eyewitnesses who are reporting breaking news via social media and livestreaming video before any of the TV networks.

Turkey Blocks is a Twitter account that checks when a country begins blocking websites. Predictably, during last night’s events, the usual suspects Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all became unavailable during the first few hours for the majority of Turks caught in the middle of the unfolding crisis.

However, many simply turned to Periscope to livestream events in front of them or keep in touch through WhatsApp group messages. The arsenal of communication tools on smartphones proved to be invaluable for Turks caught in the crossfire.

Political upheaval in countries such as Egypt, Iran, and Turkey revealed how cutting off access to social media is frequently being used to silence or confuse citizens of an area in turmoil. This evolution of internet censorship is aimed at preventing images, videos, and messages from leaving the country. Thus controlling the news narrative.

Our thirst for live information is forcing newsrooms across the globe to rely heavily on user-generated content. Probably much more so than they would care to admit.

Thankfully, an increasing number of savvy tech users are often able to circumvent any such blocks by using another DNS service. There are also options to use a VPN or the Tor browser. These methods allow anyone to appear as though they are browsing from another country. Thus rendering the blackout useless.

When a news story breaks in this digital age, livestreaming has enabled each and every one of us to become a journalist that has a live camera ready to roll. Rather than be threatened by this change to the industry, we should embrace it. Professional editors and broadcasters need to be trained to gather information and leads through Facebook Live, Twitter or Periscope.

The real skill for a professional reporter is knowing when to step back from any situation. The immediacy of information often tempts people to get swept away with rumors and lies that spread like wildfire online.

Despite any negative aspects of social media and technology, it seems that it’s allowing people’s voices to be heard that traditionally would have been silenced.

There is no denying that it is getting harder for any single party to control the flow of information. These events also illustrate how citizens often have more technical knowledge or workarounds than those attempting to control them. Online blackouts will repeatedly be seen as a useful tool in unstable areas. But I still believe that the days of silencing the human voice are disappearing.

Ironically, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who is well-known for being an opponent of Social Media later used both Twitter and Facebook to urge supporters to fight for their country.

A Tweet asking citizens to take ownership of their democracy and their national will along with a FaceTime video that was broadcast on TV ultimately saved him. This twist to a tragic tale begs the question if Erdogan still believes that social media should be blocked during any crisis or political uncertainty.

Technology and social media have allowed us to see horror through someone else’s eyes on two occasions this week. I can only hope that this also brings greater understanding to help unite global citizens in times of tragedy to make the world a better place.

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