Social media has been a boon for democratization forces around the world, most notably in the Middle East and North Africa. But a recent tragedy in Turkey helps highlights the fact that social media also has a potentially dark side for democratization efforts.
On the night of December 29, 2011, the Turkish military launched an airstrike along the Turkish-Iraqi border against what it believed to be militants belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. In reality, military officers were targeting local villagers engaged in smuggling cigarettes. The case of mistaken identity left 35 individuals dead, many of them teenagers.
Social media played a crucial role in relaying news of the tragedy to the outside world, circumventing the military’s usual veil of secrecy. Within hours, local Kurds had posted graphic photos of the victims on Twitter; statements from family members followed soon afterwards. By comparison, mainstream Turkish media didn’t start providing coverage until hours later, after a press briefing from Army officers.
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Dorian Jones is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.