Turkey increasingly turns to social media as news source: Pollster

The head of Turkey’s leading pollster KONDA says the number of people that choose social media outlets as sources for news over dailies or news channels on television has increased dramatically, T24 news portal on Wednesday reported.

“There has been a sharp increase in the number of social media users in Turkey within the past three years. Both newspapers and television channels have been affected by that change,” Bekir Agirdir on Wednesday told Murat Sabuncu from T24.

The pollster explained that social media has been serving as an alternative source for news in Turkey, where mass media has lost its credibility as a result of a growing crackdown on press freedom under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

“Many dailies have become a part of political polarization in the country and now only report with a language dictated by political power. What they do cannot be defined as journalism anymore, it’s called activism,” Agirdir argued.

He further stated that over 20 percent of people in Turkey do not prefer watching news channels on TV as news and information reached through social media outlets can be “more democratic.”

The use of social media in Turkey has flourished over the past few years, in an atmosphere where the mass media were silenced by Erdogan and his ruling AK Party (AKP) government.

At least 22 journalists were fired, and 37 more were forced to quit over their coverage of the Gezi Park protests in 2013, according to the data received from the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS).

The protests, which began in reaction to AKP’s plans to raze Istanbul’s central Gezi Park to build a shopping mall, swiftly spread to other cities as an anti-AKP movement that was described by Erdogan as a coup attempt at the time.

Social media platforms then became alternatives to Turkey’s mainstream media outlets that were criticized for self-censorship and turning pro-government.

The president, who defined social media as “the worst menace to society” during the protests, briefly blocked access to Twitter in Turkey before local elections in March 2014.

This was due to leaked audio recordings purported to reveal corruption within then-Prime Minister Erdogan’s inner circle.

The Turkish government has closely monitored social media since then, banning or slowing down access to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube during critical periods like elections and terror attacks.

Turkey’s crackdown on critical media outlets intensified, especially after a failed military coup on July 15, 2016.

The governing AKP arrested more than 160 journalists and ordered the shutdown of over 170 media outlets leaving more than 12,000 media workers without a job through decrees issued during the state of emergency that followed the coup attempt.

Business people or companies with close ties to Erdogan’s AKP government currently own up to 90 percent of the Turkish media by audience share.

Journalists critical of Erdogan and his AKP have thus turned to social media platforms such as YouTube and Periscope to broadcast and share their take on the latest news.

According to an online survey published in Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2019, 59 percent of surveyed Internet users in urban Turkey said they use social media as a news source, though it has declined from a peak of 73 percent in 2016.

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