Ángeles Briones, Barbara Roncalli, Duygu Karatas, Rajender Singh, Silván Oskar Waidmann Irastorza, Cemal Tahir Şanlı
This document is the text report of the project. To access the research contents in a more convenient format, which integrates further visualisations, follow the link to the PlacPlac project.
The incumbent Turkish government headed by President Erdogan has been in power since 2002 and although representing a hopeful turn in the initial years in favor of democratization efforts and stronger integration with the western institutions, has taken a visibly authoritarian turn particularly since 2013.
A number of milestone events such as the Gezi Park protests and a huge corruption scandal in 2013 as well as the more recent curious coup attempt in 2016 were critical in the increasingly more radical transformation of Erdoğan into a strongman. In responding to these “existential threats”, Erdoğan resorted to a variety of measures; all of them essentially to eliminate all checks and balances that could limit his rule.
Among such actions, one major pillar was his efforts to completely take over conventional outlets as well as try to control new media channels; namely the new social media platforms. He wanted to gatekeep and in many cases outright design the information that circulated. This has, step by step, completely re-shaped the Turkish media landscape with serious implications for citizens’ right to truthful reporting, a shared sense of truth and reality, functioning of the democracy and state institutions, holding of fair elections, the rule of law, personal liberties including liberty of expression, among other points of interest.
As a result; being a Turkish netizen on social media platforms today is beset by many challenges. With restricted freedoms of expression and protest, and under heavy surveillance both by state apparatuses as well as die-hard supporters of the government, users are constantly faced with the risk of legal and penal consequences in the case that what they share or express as their opinion is found not in line, i.e., offensive in some way to the government or the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself, who has an infamously thin skin when it comes to criticism.
As people in Turkey who are critical of the current Erdoğan government are trying to navigate these free speech challenges today; this project aims to explore how a sphere of political oppression and authoritarian surveillance where freedom of expression is drowned shapes and transforms the language and culture of opposition in the Turkish social media within the context of post-truth dynamics.
This project seeks to understand and showcase;
- How has the Turkish Twitter space responded to the government’s autocratic policies, particularly since 2013?
- What are the emerging trends and differing approaches on Twitter in response to the oppressive environment?
- How robust and resilient has online political opposition been over the last decade?
In this context, we will be doing 3 case studies; 3 of the most prominent examples of the political warfare that is being waged over the Turkish Twitter between government forces and users of oppositional political persuasion.
The autocratic policies of the Erdoğan government and the various practices based thereupon have successfully created an environment of fear even in the everyday citizen, and people have become very wary of what they say on the street, as well as the virtual chambers of the online world, particularly social media. In this vein; some fanatical supporters of Erdoğan have adopted a practice where they “mention” the National Security Force under someone’s critical post on Twitter (@EmniyetGM); tipping them off about the political “crime” they’ve come across.
Over time, opposition circles have begun to use this practice in parody, reversing the meaning behind it and -in a sense- memefying it in the process. They would mention the security authorities under unrelated posts just to give the author of the post a scare (meant as a joke), or even more so; simply to parody the practice of the die-hard supporters of the government.
One distinct manner of performative political play that has seemingly been born out of the particular Turkish context manifests itself in tweets where users post phrases or sentences that in appearance have no designated subject (or target), but the “in-group” understand who the tweet is about and what the unsaid meaning is.
A frequent example in the last years of COVID has been the expression “Allahım, sen konuyu biliyorsun.”, which translates into “O God, you know (the matter / what we are asking for)”. This has been particularly used in response to news of a public figure catching the COVID virus, sometimes also an autocratic leader meant as a veiled wish that Erdoğan too catches it. A variation of this is the sentence, which also includes a hint as to the wish for the virus to lead to Erdoğan’s passing away -translated- is “Dear Coronavirus, now that you’ve come to our country; we have a small request from you. You know what it’s about. His/her age is well-suited too (for you to be deadly)!
Yet another post template of similar spirit is about the nameless wish for someone’s death and what joy it would bring to the user. The posts do not include anyone else’s name for the sake of plausible deniability, but the “in-group” on Twitter knows very well who is talked about, which happens to be President Erdoğan.
Posts that express fear of imprisonment or other forms of persecution if the user actually were to write what they felt are a common occurrence on Turkish Twitter. Sometimes this worry is clearly stated, and sometimes it finds more nuanced forms; as confessions of fear about writing anything that might anger the regime. A well-known and widely used example of the latter is the “Silivri soğuktur şimdi” line, which translates into “Silivri [Prison] must be cold this time of year”, where the user actually means to say “I would have a lot to say about this, but I don’t want to risk being sent to Silivri Prison by doing so.”, which is the highest profile jail for political prisoners in Turkey. This statement can be seen especially in response to some new revelation of alleged corrupt conduct of the government or a statement by any government official that is believed to be a plain lie.
1. Which topics and statements are being tagged by patriotic snitches?
2. How does the government and police encourage this behavior?
3. How prevalent is the practice of reporting to the police across time?
1. How prevalent are the posts with anonymous death wishes covertly referring to President Erdoğan?
2. What forms and variations does it take?
3. How persistent is this practice?
1. What are the different causes for which "Silivri soğuktur şimdi" is used by Twitter users?
2. How does its usage change over time?
3. Which accounts guide the use of this phrase?
Figure 1 - The histogram shows the number of tweets mentioning @EmniyetGM + @SiberayGM, from May 2013 to July 2022. Histogram done with 4CAT.
Looking at the temporal distribution of mentions of the National Security Force in tweets, displayed by the histogram above, what emerges is a gradual increase in the trend over time, especially following the Coup Attempt in July 2016.
In particular, it is possible to identify some moments in which the frequency is clearly higher, which often correspond to periods during which specific campaigns were carried out to recruit 'neihborhood watchmen' or during which Erdogan himself called on citizens to report unpatriotic and/or terrorist behaviour and/or stances.
The highest peak ever reached, however, corresponds to March 2015, i.e. before the Coup Attempt, with a quantity of mentions exceeding 22,000, a number that is not even close to the other peaks identified, which count more than 10,000 of tweets fewer. The March 2015 peak is identified in conjunction with a particular recruitment appeal by some citizens for the hiring of computer engineers within the National Police Force. The graduates and candidates to apply for security forces launch hashtag campaigns and send several tweets under this hashtag to attract the attention of the officials for opening new positions and creating employment opportunities in the public sector. We thusly observe that users adopt Twitter to create public opinion in the context of an economic crisis, where unemployment is an important issue.
Figure 2 - Co-tag network from tweets mentioning @emniyetGM and @siberayGM, from May 2013 to July 2022. Network done with Gephi.
By analysing more specifically the contents of the tweets mentioning @emniyetGM and @siberayGM within the co-tag network, some interesting and rather defined clusters emerge. These include the cluster related to the protests that took place in Gezi Park in 2013, which includes hashtags that tend to be pro-protest, such as #resist, often accompanied by city hashtags, or hashtags that commemorate the civilian victims of the movements. In addition to this cluster, there are others in favour of protests, some of which collects more courageous and provocative hashtags, sometimes spread by 'terrorist' groups. These include FETÖ, originally a civil-religious movement led by Gülen, later labelled by Erdogan as a 'terrorist organisation', and PKK, an armed group of Kurdish separatists designated as a terrorist organisation also by the USA and the EU, and the closely linked political party HDP.
In opposition to these clusters, there are numerous hashtag groups condemning the protests and expressing support and solidarity with the National Security Forces. Examples of hashtags that are part of these clusters are 'we condemn terrorism', 'I stand with police', 'condolescence to our Nation', testifying to an opposite stance to that which emerged from the previously discussed clusters, and in which it can be identified the tendency of certain users to use the mention of National Security Forces' accounts on Twitter as a tool for public reporting and condemnation of anti-nationalist behaviour and lines of thought.
Thus, what emerges from the co-tag network is that not only is the mention of official National Security Forces accounts used as a tool of reporting against protests and movements considered to be unpatriotic and terrorist, but they often appear within tweets reporting the police violence (e.g. in the context of the Gezi Park protests of 2013) and the victims of such violence, and are sometimes used as a provocative way for reporting members of groups labelled as terrorist.
Figure 3 - Hashtags-images network of tweets mentioning @emniyetGM and @siberayGM, published in 2013. Network done with Gephi.
Figure 4 - Hashtags-images network of tweets mentioning @emniyetGM and @siberayGM, published in 2016. Network done with Gephi.
In order to better analyse the nature and content of the tweets in relation to the accompanying hashtags, so as to better answer the research question "Which topics and statements are being tagged by patriotic snitches?", the hashtags-images network was very useful. As the amount of images in the dataset is too numerous compared to Gephi's ability to display them within the networks, we focused on tweets published in two years: 2013 and 2016. In particular, many of the clusters that emerged in the co-tag network also appear in the 2016 visualisation, within which the visual element connected gave the possibility to better interpret the users' positions regarding the situation experienced during that year.
Figure 5 - #şehidimiz cluster - detail from the hashtags-images network of tweets mentioning @emniyetGM and @siberayGM, published in 2016. Network done with Gephi.
The cluster that immediately catches the eye is the one relating to martyrs ('şehidimiz'): indeed, it is the densest cluster of images, all of which have been reproduced in the same visual style and format. Looking at them in detail, what emerges is that these images are used to convey a message of condolence and solidarity towards the national security forces' officers who died in the field. These are posters created and shared by the official accounts of the Security Forces themselves. No images other than these are connected to the hashtag in question.
Figure 6 - Images shared in tweets mentioning @EmniyetGM or @SiberayGM and posted in 2013, 2016, 2019 and 2022. Visualizations done with ImageSorter.
Having visualized the images attached to the tweets published in four specific years (2013, 2016, 2019 and 2022) using ImageSorter, it was possible to compare the evolution of the most engaging topics over time, at least from a visual point of view.
The first observation that can be made by comparing the four visualisations is that, 2013 contains far fewer images (the dataset contains 137 images for 2013, 3957 for 2016, 9194 for 2019 and 8909 for the first six months of 2022 approximately), thus confirming the trend previously observed in the histogram relating to the distribution of the tweets of the dataset over time, in which it clearly emerges a consistent and progressive increase in the number of tweets from July 2016 onwards, following the Coup Attempt.
Figure 7 - Images shared in tweets mentioning @EmniyetGM or @SiberayGM and posted in 2013. Visualization done with ImageSorter.
Going more specifically and looking at the images year by year, we can see that in 2013, messages criticising the police and their violent behaviour in order to quell the Gezi Park protests prevail. Tendentially, Gezi protestors shared anti-police slogans, and images show police brutality and criticise police with the global and local political slogans associated with dissidents and opponents, during and after the protests in 2013. Some users also shared pictures of the Gezi protestors who died due to police violence, calling people to action against it. "Why are you Silent Turkey?" was one of these slogans used by such users..
Another recurring type of image in the 2013 tweets is the one reporting the National Security Forces of the anti-Gezi users who call people to beat the protestors or spread hate speech about them. Again, these are tweets posted by protesters and opponents, which show, however, that a sympathetic stance towards the police, which legitimises and supports the use of violence against protesters, has already emerged since the first protests. Looking at the visualisations of the tweets published in the following years, it emerges that the tendency of the opponents to denounce the police to the Security Forces has drastically decreased: on the contrary, the same behaviour has been carried out by those who have supported the police over the years, who have reported 'unpatriotic' stances and statements criticising the government, thus demonstrating an increase in so-called 'patriotic snitches' and the effectiveness of the policy of encouraging such behaviour implemented by the government and the police themselves.
Figure 8 - Images shared in tweets mentioning @EmniyetGM or @SiberayGM and posted in 2016. Visualization done with ImageSorter.
Already in the visualisation of 2016, this trend reversal emerges: many of the pictures denounce mainstream media such as television channels, magazines and comics for criticising president, government, state, policies or social media users, who express their support to PKK and similar organisations, sometimes also asking for detainment. Several screenshots of statements and declarations published by social media users began to appear, confirming the growing trend of reporting online behaviour to National Security Forces. Over time, this type of denunciation has become more and more widespread, as it is also shown by the views of 2019 and 2022, in which the area occupied by the 'screenshot' cluster is the densest and most extensive, and, as mentioned above, the content of the denunciations is quite varied, including both anti-government statements and 'terrorist' behaviour, which seem to be progressively more frequent, and hate speech against dissidents and more general criminal behaviour not strictly related to terrorist acts or protests (e.g. violence against women, child abuse, corruption, etc.)
Another trend that emerges in 2016, to consolidate later on, especially in 2022, is that of official communications by National Security Force channels: a recurring format, usually represented by an image with a blue background on which a usually rather long text is placed, starts to appear and to constitute a well-defined cluster in the visualizations. The content of the communications includes both solidarity and thanking messages with the public and calls to the public to share with the Security Forces information like contact addresses.
While official communications from the Security Forces were mostly absent in 2013, it is noticeable already in 2016 that a real programme was undertaken with the aim of pushing Twitter users to take on the role of 'patriotic snitches', while at the same time attempting to build a relationship of trust with citizens, based on values such as patriotism, national security and protection of the people.
Figure 9 - Images shared in tweets mentioning @EmniyetGM or @SiberayGM and posted in 2019. Visualization done with ImageSorter.
The effect of such communications and appeals becomes clear in the 2019 visualisation, in which images related to hashtag campaigns that some users started spreading, became very common, calling for the government to hire personnel for certain groups of professions (police, guard, specialised soldier), thus attracting the attention of the president, ministers and officials to open new positions. However, such requests from Twitter users are only present in the 2019 visualisation, where they predominate over official communications from National Security Force channels, and are mostly absent in 2022, where they are much more heavily taken up by official communications that attempt to establish a relationship with the public, also by starting to inform the public about successful police and narcotic operations, thus fostering a sense of security and trust in users.
Already from the 2016 visualisation, a rather large cluster emerges representing police martyrs who died in the field. This typology of images is the same as the one that emerged in the previously mentioned network of images and hashtags of 2016 and further fuels the patriotic message of Security Forces’ official communications, contributing to the goal of gathering support and trust among users. Indeed, compared to the 2013 images, in which policemen appeared to be the promoters of excessive violence and brutality towards protesters, there has been a substantial change since 2016, portraying the fallen officers as 'victims' of the protests, who died defending the good of the state and its citizens. To reinforce the patriotic message of condolences, images of the fallen are constantly accompanied by the national flag, to highlight the sacrifice they made for the country.
Figure 10 - Images shared in tweets mentioning @EmniyetGM or @SiberayGM and posted in between January and July 2022. Visualization done with ImageSorter.
Summarising what has emerged from the four visualisations made with ImageSorter, it is clear that the National Security Forces have carried out communication campaigns that have appealed to users and citizens to report anti government and anti police behaviours, finding wide acceptance, which manifested in the tendency to disseminate screenshots and mentioning the @emniyetGM and @siberayGM accounts, to demonstrate the guilt of those users. This demonstrates how the Turkish government has been able to appeal to the patriotic and national security values of its users, carrying out an emotive agenda to gain the citizens’ trust, showing that it cares for them and defends them from 'dangerous' and 'terrorist' behaviour, and asking them in return to 'contribute' to the cause by identifying and reporting all those who potentially pose a danger to the very security of the people and the state.
We set out to trace and map the use of phrases on Turkish Twitter covertly expressing the poster's wish for Turkish President Erdoğan's death while trying to stay in a safe spot with regard to possible legal prosecution. Our time frame was a span of 10 years, from May 2013 until present. However, our examinations revealed that volume analysis as a function of time proved to be difficult in this case.
One significant reason is that the phrasing can take a multitude of forms, including variations with a number of pronouns. As a result, it becomes considerably challenging to pinpoint, track and quantify the use of this practice; seeking to understand how prevalent and resilient it has proved to be over the years in the said interval.
Since these are posts where the original posters make a very deliberate point, in the first place, of not including the name of who is actually being talked about or referred to therein; therefore not having a direct reference or mention of the person that is in reality being talked about; it is one factor that hinders in-depth study and assessment to reach thorough and conclusive results.
The grammatical dynamics of Turkish as a language also come into play; the subject pronoun for the third person singular in Turkish, “o”, is gender-neutral; does not designate gender. Furthermore, it can be dropped altogether in a sentence, qualifying as a "hidden subject" or "hidden object", depending on the structure of the sentence or dependent clause.
- For instance; "o öldüğünde" --> can become "öldüğünde", with the subject pronoun "o" being dropped, without a loss or narrowing in meaning. The "o" (he/she/it) is optional.
- Similarly; "onun öldüğü gün" --> can become "öldüğü gün", with "onun" (his/her/its) dropped.
Thus, it is fair to say that the Turkish language offers a couple of unique affordances to its speakers when they are seeking to veil the true meaning behind their sentences by way of crafting the sentence with intent.
The queries tested within the framework of this case study include, but are not limited to;
“o öldüğünde”: when he/she/it dies
“öldüğü gün” / “onun öldüğü gün”: the day (he/she/it) dies [onun is the subject and can become hidden]
“malum kişi”: "you-know-who", "that person we all know", "person of interest"
“malum kişi öldüğünde”: "when 'you-know-who' dies"
"malum şahıs": "that personality" ["şahıs" is a more formal, more old fashion word for "person", "individual"]
“malum şahıs öldüğünde”: "when 'that personality' dies"
“malum kişinin öldüğü gün”: "the day 'you-know-who' dies"
“Allahım konuyu biliyorsun”: "O God, you know (the matter / what we are asking for)"
“asıl bayram”: "the real feast / festival"
Another observation that we found out to be rendering this study challenging is that different phrases in Turkish that translate as "you-know-who", "the person of interest" or similar can also be used in many different contexts for many different figures.
A common example, as we found in our examination, is its use for someone important in a person's life; for instance when the poster is talking about their significant other. "I am going to be surprising you-know-who with this gift", or "What is your (private) 'person of interest' recorded as on your phones?" (Figure 11)
Figure 11 - ”you-know-who” as significant other
A similar but separate example case is when the original poster (OP) is talking about their crush or unrequited love interest. "Due to posting a hundred tweets every day in the hopes that 'that person' sees them, I found myself to have become an influencer." (Figure 12)
Figure 12 - “you-know-who” as crush
Sometimes, it can even be used by an ardent fan of a sports team in referring to some athlete or coach that is at the center of much debate, who is in the limelight. The user using the reference may be on their side or against, both cases are possible. In this example, the Trabzonspor (a big Turkish football club) fan is expressing their pleasure with seeing the “person of interest” starting with the team at the next game: "It's good to see that you-know-who is not sitting on the bench, but will play in the first squad." (Figure 13)
Figure 13 - “you-know-who” as loved/hated athlete
All in all, our closer look at the data showcased that it is rather difficult to accurately trace, capture and quantify this mode of indirect and implied referral to President Erdoğan among netizens of the Turkish Twitter space. Besides wishing him dead, there are also many tweets expressing frustration, anger or dislike against President Erdoğan; but Turkish people know all too well by now that directly and unmistakably speaking about and against him creates consequences such as detainment, dismissal from one's job, imprisonment and others that people usually don't wish to bring upon themselves. Therefore, the latent and disguised mode of expression continues to persist.
We found that "Silivri soğuktur şimdi" starts being used from 2018. It became a hot topic around this timeline when Silivri became a political prison where opposition leaders started getting prisoned. The use of phrase on Twitter is more prominent only after year 2019. It shows that the use of “Silivri soğuktur şimdi” in the Turkish Twitter sphere slowly gained the momentum a couple of years after the alleged coup.
Figure 14 - Tweets timeline mentioning “Silivri soğuktur şimdi''
We did a Bipartite Author-tag Network to get an overall sense of what hashtags are most prominently used with the phrase “Silivri soğuktur şimdi'' and also to check if there are any particular twitter accounts that dominate this use. As shown in Figure 15, we found that people are using “Silivri soğuktur şimdi'' with a wide variety of hashtags that represented a range of issues like COVID-19, corruption, political turmoil, the Turkish economy, pension rights, minimum wage issue, electricity bills and protesting Erdogan's call for donating money to the state. Despite hashtagging such a wide variety of issues with Silivri Prison, most of the tweets used “Silivri soğuktur şimdi” as a sheath to conceal their pain of being silenced. “Silivri soğuktur şimdi'' is used to show the inability of not being able to speak freely on any issue that might irk the state. Twitter users used it to remind themselves and others of the implications of speaking up on any issue.
Figure 15 - Overall hashtags used along with “Silivri soğuktur şimdi''
As evident from Figure 15, we found that there were no specific authors (twitter accounts) that were driving the use of “Silivri soğuktur şimdi” or associated hashtags. The phrase was used by diversified accounts/users and none of them were overwhelmingly driving the use of the phrase and related hashtags; no specific Twitter accounts were dominating the tweet set. This shows that there were most likely no influencers or troll armies driving the use of this phrase, but that it has been adopted and used by a broad base of Turkish Twitter users.
After this initial data exploration, we did a deep dive into the analysis of the co-hashtag to identify clusters of top hashtags used over a period of time. We used OpenRefine and RawGraph to create a steamgraph of top 15 hashtags used over a time period from 2018-2022.
The analysis of hashtag continuity as a function of time reveals that fundamentally every year had its own set of unique tags (agenda items) that were accompanied by the Silivri phrases, and that no tag persisted in collaboration with Silivri reminders for an extended time. That is to say, whatever was an important item on the nation's agenda for that particular time saw the use of Silivri references therewith; topics that were matters of concern for citizens were almost always automatically considered "sensitive" subjects from the eyes of the government, discussing them risking persecution.
So “Silivri soğuktur şimdi'' was used for different reasons under themes over different time frames. For instance, as can be seen in Figure 16, In year 2019 the phrase was used in tweets asking for pension law reform, in 2020 it was used in tweets reacting to Erdogan’s call for donation from people to his COVID emergency fund, in 2021 it was used in tweets questioning $128 billion USD corruption in the Erdogan regime. In nutshell, the phrase was used with different themes & issues at different points of time, and we could also observe that those issues mattered broadly to the Turkish populace & society during those periods.
Figure 16 - Overall hashtags used along with “Silivri soğuktur şimdi''
Tweets containing the "Silivri soğuktur şimdi" phrase that are indicative of the sphere of intimidation can be sorted into two distinct categories. A double logic is at play with regards to Silivri reminders:
Logic 1: Self-administered censorship
Original posts with this sentence by users (“the fearful”) that are applying self-censorship, using this phrase as an expression as well as justification of fear.
Logic 2: Corrective social intervention
Replies, mentions, or quotes of other Twitter users ("the warners") responding to a tweet by someone ("the bold") they deem dangerously brave or frank, urging the original poster to get back "in line".
These two complementary dynamics serve to propagate obedience and silence (censorship).
Some Turkish Twitter netizens object to the use of this phrase in such a way, and try to inspire others to speak against the oppressive regime. While most people make use of the Silivri reference to contextualize and justify their fear about speaking directly and critically on matters of political significance, some others feel it is self-defeating for citizens to be using this phrase. In this context, it is not surprising that the most retweeted tweet with "Silivri soğuktur şimdi" is the one below in figure 17, actually protesting its very use and calling on others to fight back against the Erdogan regime, on the grounds that the normalization of the drowning of free expression through the "humorous" use of this phrase would pave the way for an even grimmer future for their children.
Figure 17 - "Dear friends, after this stage, there's no point in living in fear; fear will never spare you from any ill fate. You must express what you think for the sake of your children's future. There will be people who will make jokes about how "Silivri is cold", let me tell you something; I have been imprisoned in Silivri prison for 16 months. When you are crippled with fear, even under the blanket at home would become colder than there."
Being a Turkish citizen means living under an increasingly autocratic rule that is bent on crushing any form or shape of dissent and opposition. President Erdoğan and his AKP government are well known for their distaste for and intolerance with anyone speaking critically about their conduct. As it has become alarmingly difficult to speak against or protest the government on the street, so has the walls of oppression closed in on liberties and free expression rights of the citizens on social media alike.
One common occurrence that exemplifies this atmosphere of fear and intimidation is the practice of “patriotic snitching” adopted by many die-hard Erdoğan followers on Twitter, especially in the aftermath of the critical coup attempt of 15 July 2016. Posts critical of President Erdoğan or the AKP government are frequently reported to the National Police Force through mentioning of their official Twitter handle, as they are regarded as “out of line” against the state, many times accusations of “treason” or “terrorism” accompanying such denunciation.
As a result of and response to this oppressive environment where people are genuinely afraid to speak their minds, especially on matters concerning government’s policies and Erdoğan’s rule; Twitter users have come up with and adopted certain ways in order to avoid persecution and survive, at the same time trying to preserve some small extent of agency for protest.
For one, Twitter users started to use the phrase “Silivri soğuktur şimdi”, as a humorous reference to the prison predominantly reserved for political prisoners that they may find themselves in, should they say anything that could displease those in power.
Secondly, more and more people found themselves resorting to a style of posting where no names are named, but users well-versed in the vernacular of the platform Twitter understand well that the person who is being talked about is actually President Erdoğan. A common type of such posts are those containing death wishes.
To understand and assess the said environment of intimidation and how Turkish Twitter netizens have been responding thereto; we conducted three case studies within the timeframe of the past decade, with Gezi Protests that took place in May 2013 as the starting point, to look deeper into the above-mentioned three phenomena.
As the first case study, we zoomed in on tweets mentioning the National Police Force and its specialized cybercrimes unit within the context of “patriotic snitching”. We wanted to understand how prevalent this practice was, what subjects or topics this reporting took place within the context of, and whether and in what ways Erdoğan and his regime encouraged or facilitated this conduct. We found that tweets mentioning the police are not limited to denunciations by die-hard Erdoğan supporters; but feature a number of themes; however with no outstanding accounts driving this practice.
Firstly, the said denunciation tweets are usually accompanied by terrorism allegations; the two most prominent being the long-standing “traditional” one in the Kurdish separatist PKK, and secondly so-called FETÖ that was more recently coined by President Erdoğan and widely used as an effective manner of branding dissidents. Another theme is of tweets promoting nationalistic unity and solidarity, mostly created and disseminated by the official account of the Police Force; especially in the face of terrorist attacks that claimed lives of police officers on duty. A surprising find was that a sizable subset within these tweets were about asking for new job positions to be made available in the National Police Force, for numerous occupations. Last but not least, tweets posted during or within the context of the Gezi Park Protests constituted a significant cluster, with some tweets containing images of police brutality.
Secondly, for “anonymous death wishes”, we examined tweets that mention no names and appear to be without a clear target, but covertly refer to Erdoğan. We sought to unveil how prevalent these posts with anonymous death wishes are, what forms and variations they take, and how persistent this practice has been. Our study of Twitter data revealed that, owing to a number of factors such as similar phrasings being used for a variety of actors such as the significant other or a debated athlete, the phrases being able to take many forms and variations as well as the peculiar linguistic affordances of Turkish; volume and temporal analysis proved challenging, necessitating further examination. What is evident, however, is that this is a style many Turkish people on Twitter resort to, for citing Erdoğan’s name could, and does in many cases, lead to severe consequences. So the prevalence thereof is actually a grim indication of how successful the intimidation by the regime is.
And thirdly, we studied the practice of Silivri prison references in lieu of one stating their actual opinion. The questions we endeavored to answer were; what the different causes for the use of "Silivri soğuktur şimdi" were, how its usage changed over time, and which accounts guide the use of this phrase. What we discovered was that the practice of reporting to the police was not tied to any particular co-tag; but had been used in conjunction with and in the context of various kinds of topics and agenda items. If a subject was a matter of concern for the everyday citizens, inevitably implying that some people express frustration, complaint or criticism towards the government, the reporting emerged. Although the total volume displays a slightly waning trend since its advent in September 2018 it still has notable volume. In fact, the fact that it managed to persist in a time where online trends go out of fashion very rapidly and on a social media platform where trending tags fly by every day proves that government surveillance and repression is very much alive, coming into play in virtually any conversation that matters to members of the nation.