Date
24 May 2017
Still frame taken from video shows Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addressing his people via Facetime video on Saturday during an attempted coup in the country. Photo: Reuters
Still frame taken from video shows Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addressing his people via Facetime video on Saturday during an attempted coup in the country. Photo: Reuters

How Erdogan used FaceTime and social media to foil coup bid

A failed military coup in Turkey has claimed the lives of at least 290 people and injured more than 1,400, in events that shocked the whole world.

Straddling the edges of Eastern Europe and western Asia, the nation previously suffered military intervention four times in the past sixty years.

But the fifth military coup attempt was quashed as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan encouraged people to come onto the streets and stand up against the military rebels.

Declaring the attempted coup by a section of the military as a “black stain” on Turkey’s democracy, Erdogan rallied his supporters by using FaceTime video and social media to deliver his message.

That came as gunfire and explosions rocked Turkey’s main city Istanbul and capital Ankara and rebel soldiers took over key radio and television stations to announce a change of guard.

Erdogan was on holiday at a beach when the coup was launched on Friday. Within hours, he spoke to CNN-Turk via FaceTime to inform that he was safe and calm, and to call on the public to take to the streets to defy the curfew.

His strategy worked. Thousands of people poured on to the streets at night, including at the Taksim Square in Istanbul.

Both sides confronted each other until early morning as most rebels were not ready to shoot at the civilians.

In the past, if rebels took control of government organizations and state television station, it would have meant they were already half way to success. They could control the information flow, since most people relied on TV to get the latest news.

However, things were different this time. Turkish people were able to communicate via social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

And many of Erdogan’s supporters even used Facebook to broadcast live their faceoff with the rebel soldiers on the street.

That sent a clear message that things can be turned back, offsetting news from the state television station that was seized by the rebel soldiers.

As a result, the coup was quashed by early Saturday, helping Erdogan to emerge victorious and return to Ankara.

Turkey has been regarded as a model of secular democracy in the Islamic world. But Erdogan is considered to be one of the nation’s most religious presidents in several decades.

Like Chinese authorities, Erdogan has tightened censorship over western social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

But now he used the very same social media tools, as well as the FaceTime feature on Apple’s iPhone, to rally Turkish people onto the streets and beat back the rebels.

By contrast, the rebel military forces were found wanting in the use of information technology during the coup. 

Erdogan enjoys fierce and loyal support among Turkey’s conservative Muslims.

Like him, leaders in some other Muslim nations have also become adept in using old and new methods to achieve their goals.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 18.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JZ/DY/RC

Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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