Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at protesters on the weekend but singled out microblogging social media tool Twitter for his most scathing attack.
“Now we have a menace that is called Twitter,” he said in an interview on Turkish television. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”
Instead of directly criticizing protesters – initially young and liberal when the protests began last week, but now growing to represent a broad spectrum of Turkish society – he said “incorrect” information was being spread via tweets.
“People are being misled by outright lies.”
Mr. Erdogan is not the first leader in the region to finally catch on that social media – in particular Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – are widely used by the under-40 crowd, which make up majority in Turkey and the Arab world.
Social media helped Tunisians and Egyptians organize themselves and topple their long-time dictators two years ago and is still a powerful tool against the Islamists who govern both those countries.
Recognizing that, and taking a page from the dictator notebook, the Turkish government shut down Facebook and Twitter in Turkey for several hours Saturday.
It also imposed a news media blackout.
But it didn’t work: Protesters created hashtags and Facebook pages at lightning speed, circulating pictures and videos of police attacking demonstrators as well as images of those who were reported to have died in the violence.
As a result, the Turkish leader tried discrediting social media rather than risk further alienating Turkish voters, who came out in force after being horrified by the circulating scenes they believed were the norm only across the Mediterranean.
Sunday night, Mr. Erdogan said he didn’t need “permission” from marauders for his controversial plans to redevelop part of central Istanbul.
“He’s a dictator,” said one tweet. “He sounds like Mubarak.”
“He’ll end up like him, too,” went the answer.