Amid riots, Turkish leader calls Twitter a 'curse'

Social media has been a major player in the political protests erupting in Turkey

As riots erupted in Turkey and protestors and government officials took to social media to fire back and forth online, the country's prime minister called Twitter a "curse."

Istanbul is seeing its fourth day of violent public demonstrations in Taksim Square, as anti-government protestors clash with riot police amid wide-spread reports that more than 1,000 people have been injured.

As the riots heated up, so did the social media hubbub around them.

Since 4 p.m. ET on Friday, there have been at least 2 million tweets with hashtags related to the protest, such as 950,000 mentioning #direngezipark1, 170,000 with #occupygezi and 50,000 with #geziparki, according to a study from New York University. Even during the early morning hours on June 1, more than 3,000 tweets about the protest were posted every minute.

The study found that 90% of all geolocated tweets are coming from inside Turkey, with half from within Istanbul itself.

Although a large number of the tweets have come from the protestors, some government officials are trying to get their message out, as well.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose Twitter account has more than 2.7 million followers, said during an interview, "Right now, of course, there is this curse called Twitter, all forms of lies are there... This thing called social media is a curse on societies."

Despite calling Twitter a "curse," Erdogan used the micro-blogging site to dismiss claims that Turkey is going through its own Arab Spring, saying what happened in countries like Egypt won't happen there.

"Social media has become a very important organizational and informational tool for demonstrators in the last few years," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "It can be used to very quickly inform people of plans or to get word out on events that are currently happening."

He added that for Erdogan to dismiss Twitter, while using it himself, is odd.

"While having a lot of followers doesn't mean that they're reading your tweets or that they agree with you, of course..., it's interesting that he's trying to use the same tools as those demonstrating against him in the PR war," Olds said.

In contrast to the days when Twitter was seen as place to tweet about a favorite sandwich, the social network has become an agent of change.

Twitter, for instance, became a lifeline after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. It also was a resource for those trying to find out about loved ones during massive earthquakes in Chile and Haiti in 2010. It was also a key communication tool during the 2009 government crackdown in Iran, the "Arab Spring" uprising in Egypt in 2011 and the U.S. presidential election last fall.

This article, Amid riots, Turkish leader calls Twitter a 'curse', was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Amid riots, Turkish leader calls Twitter a 'curse'" was originally published by Computerworld.

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