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Turkey protesters set precedent with Twitter usage

Data from NYU researchers shows that Turkish protesters are using Twitter to communicate directly, more so than those at other large movements of late.

While Twitter and other social media have been used prominently in other large protest efforts, such as the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt and several global Occupy events, protesters in Taksim Square in Istanbul appear to be using it more aggressively and independently than any before them. 

According to data collected by New York University's Social Media and Political Participation laboratory, 90% of Tweets sent related to the Istanbul protests have been sent within Turkey. Half of all Tweets related to the protests have been sent from within Istanbul itself, and an estimated 88% were written in Turkish.

During the 2011 protests at Tahrir Square, just 30% of Tweets related to the Egyptian Revolution were sent from within Egypt, according to research from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

This is especially impressive when reports of 3G outages in Turkey are considered. The authors of the report, NYU lab memebrs and Politics Ph.D. candidates Pablo Barbera and Megan Metzger, said in the report that local businesses have left Wi-Fi networks open to help protestors connect in the face of the 3G outages.

The sheer volume of Tweets containing hashtags relating to the protests has outpaced efforts seen in the past. As of Saturday, when the NYU first researchers released their report, "at least 2 million tweets mentioning hashtags related to the protest, such as #direngeziparkı (950,000 tweets), #occupygezi (170,000 tweets) or #geziparki (50,000 tweets) have been sent."

"Even after midnight local time last night more than 3,000 tweets about the protest were published every minute," the report added.

The researchers believe the heavy reliance on Twitter stems from a distrust of mainstream media in the country, which has failed to provide adequate coverage of the event. This has sparked its own online movement, with the hashtag #BugünTelevizyonlarıKapat, translated as "turn off the TVs today," generating more than 50,000 Tweets, according to the report.

It's interesting to see Twitter and social media used in this capacity as a means of organizing protests directly. This has generated legal issues in the past. In December 2012, 23-year-old Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct charges stemming from an October 2011 march on the Brooklyn Bridge. The guilty plea was made only after Twitter complied with a subpoena for Tweets sent from Harris' account, which were believed to have directed droves of protesters to the bridge. By pleading guilty, Harris prevented the Tweets from being exposed publicly as trial evidence, and thus incriminating other Occupy Wall Street protestors who interacted with him, according to Reuters.

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