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Twitter use by politicians during social uprisings

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Social uprisings clearly show that social media tools, especially Twitter, help news spread more than the press does recently. In some cases Twitter substitutes traditional media if censorship is enlarged to such a level that the mainstream media channels prefer not to reflect the actual volume of the protests. Twitter is also utilized by politicians during such events to reinforce "us vs. them" division, and to gain support and legitimization for their own actions. Using critical discourse analysis, this paper aims to investigate the recurring speech patterns in the tweets of top-level politicians during the Gezi Park protests that started in Istanbul Turkey in June 2013 and spread the country rapidly. We study the tweets to draw conclusions on whether the politicians' statements represent marginalization and polarization efforts during the Gezi Park protests. In this paper, we consider social uprising as a communal expression of both political and apolitical opposition to the party in power. Our analysis reveals that the politicians' tweets are mainly characterized by a discourse that guides the public into some conscious direction that may reproduce marginalization and polarization among the public at large.
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TWITTER USE BY POLITICIANS DURING SOCIAL
UPRISINGS: AN ANALYSIS OF GEZI PARK PROTESTS IN
TURKEY
Naci Karkın
Pamukkale University,
Faculty of Economics and
Administrative Sciences,
Dept. of Political Science
and Public Adm.,
Denizli, Turkey
Tel: +902582962781
E-mail: nkirgin@pau.edu.tr
Nilay Yavuz
Middle East Technical Univ.
Faculty of Economics and
Administrative Sciences,
Dept. of Political Science
and Public Adm.,
Ankara, Turkey
Tel:+903212102065
E-mail:nyavuz@metu.edu.tr
İsmet Parlak
Pamukkale University,
Faculty of Economics and
Administrative Sciences,
Department of Political
Science and Public Adm.,
Denizli, Turkey
Tel:+902582962821
E-mail: iparlak@pau.edu.tr
Özlem Özdeşim İkiz
Pamukkale University,
Faculty of Economics and
Administrative Sciences,
Department of Political
Science and Public Adm.,
Denizli, Turkey
Tel:+902582962696
E-mail: oikiz@pau.edu.tr
ABSTRACT
Social uprisings clearly show that social media tools, especially
Twitter, help news spread more than the press does recently. In
some cases Twitter substitutes traditional media if censorship is
enlarged to such a level that mainstream media channels prefer
not to reflect the actual volume of the protests. Twitter is also
utilized by politicians during such events to reinforce “us vs.
them” division, and to gain support and legitimization for their
own actions. Using critical discourse analysis, this paper aims to
investigate the recurring speech patterns in the tweets of top-level
politicians during the Gezi Park protests that started in Istanbul
Turkey in June 2013 and spread the country rapidly. We study the
tweets to draw conclusions on whether the politicians’ statements
represent marginalization and polarization efforts during the Gezi
Park protests. In this paper, we consider social uprising as a
communal expression of both political and apolitical opposition to
the party in power. Our analysis reveals that politicians’ tweets
are mainly characterized by a discourse that guides the public into
some conscious direction that may reproduce marginalization and
polarization among the public at large.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
Information systems: Content Analysis and Indexing -
Indexing methods, Linguistic processing. Computers and
Society: Public Policy Issues
Keywords
Twitter, Social Media, Government, Politicians, Discourse
Analysis, Social uprisings, Polarization
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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2757401.2757430
1. INTRODUCTION
Twitter was launched in July 2006 as a free website that
enables social networking through short messages, which are
known as micro-blogs or “tweets”. Since then, it has become one
of the liveliest online communities in the world [37].
As a social media tool, Twitter has also been extensively
utilized in the political and administrative arenas with an aim to
increase transparency, accountability, and responsiveness of
public institutions, and to improve government-citizen interaction
by opening new communication and participation channels
[28][41]. Because Twitter offers the advantage of simplicity and
convenience of rapid communication to the users, it is particularly
useful to the politicians to directly communicate their ideas to the
larger public during election campaigns or major events [23][29].
As Dijk [48] suggests, “it is eminently here that different and
opposed groups, power, struggle and interests are at stake; in
order to be able to compete, political groups need to be
ideologically conscious and organized”. In order to influence the
audience and gain support of the larger public in this power fight,
Twitter is increasingly being preferred as a medium of political
communication over the traditional media or even websites and
blogs [14][27].
Along with the growing use of Twitter as a tool of political
interaction, there has also been an attention in the academia
recently to understand and explain how and why Twitter is being
utilized by politicians, and what its impact on the political
outcomes are [26][51][20]. In addition, a few studies have focused
on the content of the messages and the language behavior of the
politicians on Twitter, suggesting categories to characterize the
main themes of the tweets sent regularly [36][38][40]. On the
other hand, there has been little analysis about the language that
politicians from different parties use on Twitter during major
political events. For example, while polarizing language is
regularly used by politicians in the traditional media to clearly
specify points of departure on certain issues, it is not clear
whether the same language behavior is present in social media use
and especially during major political events or social uprisings
[36].
In the light of this gap, the present study aims to describe
and explain the language that top political party executives of the
party in power (Justice and Development Party) and of the main
opposition party (Republican People’s Party) in Turkey used in
their tweets during Gezi Park events in the summer of 2013. We
particularly examine two research questions: What types of
recurring speech patterns can be identified from the politicians’
discourse in Twitter during Gezi Park events? What do they reveal
about the ideological discourse strategies used by the politicians
in Twitter?
We use critical discourse analysis to suggest that the
discourse used by the politicians in their tweets during the social
uprisings is mainly dominated by a polarizing language.
Polarizing is defined as “supporting language for one’s self versus
pejorative language for others” [36]. We expect that the content of
the tweets will reveal how we-other contradiction is constructed in
this framework and the other is marginalized in order to legitimize
their own perspective and gain the support of the public at large
during the event.
Utilizing Van Dijk’s [48] discourse analysis categories, we
examine the tweets sent by the top politicians of two political
parties to outline the recurring speech patterns and to identify how
they establish we-other contradiction by employing certain
ideological discourse structures in their speech.
The paper is organized as follows. We first provide an
overview of the Gezi Park events that took place in the summer of
2013 in Turkey and summarize the related political arguments. It
is followed by our conceptual framework, presenting critical
discourse analysis and its relevance for our study, along with a
description of the analytical categories used to group politicians’
tweets. Next, we describe the data and the methods used in the
paper. Finally, we present our results and discuss the implications
of the study.
2. THE CASE OF GEZI PARK PROTESTS
Gezi Park, located at Taksim Square which is one of the
most visited places in Istanbul, and its protestors succeeded in
attracting a great deal of attention from all over the world lately.
This is achieved particularly due to the excessive use of Twitter
during the protests, both by the public and the politicians, since
the traditional media largely neglected the protests in the very
beginning days. According to a study conducted by Barberá and
Metzger [3], in a single day, at least 2 million tweets using
hashtags related to the protests, such as #direngeziparkı,
#occupygezi or #geziparki have been sent, most of it from within
Istanbul. As it is asserted, Twitter plays an important role for the
protestors in public sphere in conveying their messages to the
peers and to the whole world [22][6].
The protests that started at Gezi Park and dispersed to the
whole country except for some cities were actually a result of an
unplanned urban movement whose base was at Taksim Square.
The resistance begun in the last days of May 2013 against a city
plan that was planning to redesign Gezi Park in order to build new
sidewalks, but argued to build a shopping mall instead of the Park.
In general, the politicians’ of the Justice and Development Party
(JDP), the party in power since 2002, actively supported the local
government’s city plan and the related actions.
After the use of excessive police raids against the peaceful
protesters [15] which were characterized as “chapullers”1 by the
1 The word “chapuller” is not present in English language and has
no meaning whatsoever. It is actually an English-type of writing
of a Turkish word as“çapulcu” meaning depredators, or vandals.
It was viral through social media and represented an identity as
of opposition to party in power.
Prime Minister as the leader of JDP, the protests were dispersed to
major metropolitans first, and then to the rest of the country, and
triggered a set of chain reactions against the actions and processes
made by JDP government.
The protests and the response of the Police force resulted in
11 deaths, over 8,000 injuries, several arrests, and vandalism to
the vehicles and buildings. The protests ended after a month, but
the debates around the nature of the events and their political,
social, and economical consequences still continue among the
politicians, the public, and the media.
It is argued that the protests during Gezi Park are not solely
against “tree-cutting” in Istanbul. Having people from most socio-
economic backgrounds and different political ideologies in the
protests clearly give rise to an assertion that the protests during
Gezi Park incidents represent a resistance culmination, feeding
from an accumulated temper due to the authoritarian attitude and
behavior of the government, ranging from restricting the freedom
of the press, to abortion [16], to central government interference
with local matters, or being motivated by honor [12].
3. CONCEPTUAL AND THEORETICAL
FRAMEWORK
3.1. The Internet, Online Mobilization, and Politics
Research has shown that the Internet could engage diverse
groups of people in politics [8]. This is mainly due to the
advantage of improved access to political information by different
social groups [9]. Particularly social media, as an alternative
setting for political expression and engagement, facilitates
information exposure, political discussions, and getting organized
with like-minded citizens [32]. In addition, the internet has the
potential to attract young people to political participation, as the
frequent users of these tools [9].
Some studies have focused on the use of twitter as a tool of
online mobilization and social activism, and investigated how it
transforms the collective action field by empowering citizens to
diffuse ideas, get organized, and pressure governments.
Kavanaugh et. al. [25] investigated the use of social media in Iran,
Tunisia and Egypt during the mass political demonstrations and
protests in June 2009, December 2010 - January 2011, and
February 2011, respectively, and found that Twitter was utilized
by the protestors to fill a unique technology and communication
gap during the events. Similarly, Sandoval-Almazan and Gil-
Garcia [35] examined why and how these social media-enabled
political movements emerge and evolve, by looking at the
students’ use of social media tools to communicate their concerns
and organize protests across the country in the context of the 2012
presidential election in Mexico. While these and similar studies
mostly focused on the publics use of social media during social
uprisings, politicians use of social media tools during the protests
were less studied.
As noted before, Twitter provided an extremely crucial
functionality during Gezi protests, since the mainstream media
largely neglected to reflect the actual volume of the protests in the
beginning. That’s why the tweets sent by the politicians during
Gezi protests could be evaluated as expressions of certain political
and social thoughts, rather than being random or incidental
statements developed instantly. The functionality provided by
Twitter is reflected by its power to convey the ideologically
driven discourses that helped to build the social and political
identities. As we argue, Twitter is related to facilitating conveying
the ideologically driven discourses to the mass in a multi-way
fashion, clearly beyond what is provided by traditional means of
regular media (i.e. except for online content). Actually, social
media leaves traditional media behind as reflected in the protests
in Egypt in 2011[30]. This catalyzing role is a real contribution to
both the societal life and the political life, since politicians were
previously supposed to convey their arguments and opinions to
their audience in their general discourses using a one-way method.
In case of Twitter, the tweets are limited to a 140-character
long which requires the sender to keep the tweet at a level that
could be easily comprehended and conveyed to peers, if
necessary. As the senders are among the top-level management
cadres attributed to the political parties in question, then the
tweets imply they are sent at first hand by an authority per se.
Thus followers could easily be transformed into some kind of
“hooligans” by means of “replay, favorite, or retweet” functions
that help the tweet sent to disseminate at an effective rate of
speed. This dissemination process could be interrupted by new
additions, or hindered by counter-tweets through the spread
process. However, any content in traditional media could not be
disturbed, or altered by any means except for withdrawal by
responsible and authorized personnel and by hacking that is valid
for the online content of the traditional media. Yet, any
argumentation towards the tweets sent could be developed and
shared via Twitter; it is certainly conditional to the volume of the
account where it appeared or re-tweeted. Twitter is also functional
to agenda setting for facilitating discussion, or to change the
agendas with the introduction of new tweets as fast as the air
itself. In this context, any identities which are marked as “the
other” could easily be served through Twitter.
Twitter’s another uniqueness lies in its easiness to build a
discoursive power since its circulation and dissemination power is
extraordinary, especially for some special events as is the case
with social uprisings. People is inclined to believe (in Twitter
framework to “follow”) and convey (in Twitter framework
“retweet”) what is stated by those who are supposed to be formal
or informal leaders in the given circumstances. Politicians of the
opposing sides, particularly, can be the personalities who may
have symbolically powerful identities in the eyes of the followers.
By implication, the tweets sent by the politicians represent the
recoded reality with respect to discourse legitimization. Through
their tweets, the politicians use an encrypted language and
establish a collective identity by calling new names to problems,
and by developing a discourse and a consistent message [1][13].
And for discourse, it is one of the most important instruments that
are able to convey an ideology.
3.2. Description of Critical Discourse Analysis and Its
Application
Critical Discourse Analysis focuses on “the traces of
cultural and ideological meaning in spoken and written texts” [45]
by involving the broader socio-political and socio-cultural
contexts within which discourse is rooted. In that sense, it enables
researchers to discover the ideological foundations of discourse
that have become accepted overtime and are considered as
common sense [17][33].
In conducting discourse analysis, researchers are not
provided with a pre-established, precise framework; however, it is
argued that the analysis should always be attuned to discourse’s
particular concepts to disclose its actual analytical power [40].
Discourse analyzers consider discourse as a way of using
language more effectively, and they extend the content of the
concept to include some attributes such as whom, how, why, and
when the language is used [49]. Critical discourse analysis (CDA)
that we have preferred to use in this study as the main
methodology argues that both discourse and ideology concepts
should be used together, because discourse cannot explain power
and domination relations in modern social structures alone.
Language and discourse enable to reproduce and transfer
ideology in a social interaction process by making it concrete.
Ideology, “as a cognitive framework that controls the formation,
transformation and application of other social cognitions” ([44, p.
24] controls both what we are talking and writing and how we are
doing this, while it determines who we are by value judgments in
related to our relations with the others[46]. For instance, speeches
of a party leader, a newspaper report, a debate in parliament or
tweets are among discourse samples carrying ideological
constructions. Accordingly, entitling any individual as a protester,
demonstrator, marginal, depredator (chapuller), or a citizen
utilizing his/her democratic right does not reflect simply a variety
of meaning-free ordinary concepts. Entitling the same
phenomenon over people in a different manner depends on the
preferences about conceptual application.
Ideology, assumed as “a form of social cognition, shared by
the members of a group, class, or other social formation” [44, p.
24], has macro and micro functions [46]. Van Dijk [46] describes
micro function as being concerned with indirectly affecting social
practices in such a way that it enables common action by
generating in-group cooperation and interaction. However, within
the frame of scope and limitations posed by this study, we focus
on the function of ideology at macro level. Ideology functioning
at the macro level should be thought within the frame of power
and dominance concepts. Such way of thinking requires handling
ideology as an instrument for legitimating or enforcing the abuse
of power[46].
Ideologies have a content that emerges as a result of group
contradictions and conflicts based on group identity as of “us vs.
them”[46]. The basis of ideological representation in this
framework includes an external group (them) against the
representation of an internal group (us). In dichotomies pointing
out the conflict of us in respect to them, the first concept (us)
generally is constructed as to disclaim the second (them). This is a
strategy that enables naturalization of unequal state of competence
and power relations at the discoursive level. Dependent upon such
a strategy, in-group representations are presented as favorable
(talk positive about us) whereas out-group representations are
presented as adverse (talk negative about them) through which
dominant position is constructed [46].
Having an elaborated and systematic analysis of discourse
strategies that political actors perform in times of social uprisings
may reveal some clues on the typical aspects of political process
or on populism efforts in the political struggle. Such kind of an
analysis may yield meaningful results asserting that ideological
discourses are not limited to political struggle, and sometimes go
far beyond. In this sense, examination of structures and
movements of political discourse through social media, in
particular Twitter, may point out how ideological discourses have
a role in the more comprehensive social and political issues.
This study employs the framework developed by van Dijk
[49] to analyze the discourse of the top level politicians using
Twitter during Gezi Park events. We argue that the recurring
speech patterns in the politicians’ tweets are a result of impression
management, which can be characterized by a dichotomy of
‘positive self-presentation’ and ‘negative other-presentation’ as
proposed by van Dijk [49]. According to him, this dichotomy
takes place through four main tenets: “Emphasize our good things,
emphasize their bad things, de-emphasize our bad things, de-
emphasize their good things (p. 734).
Van Dijk [49, pp. 735-739] proposed several examples of
ideological discourse structures that can be used for the
production of ideological discourse, and establishing us-them
contradiction, including actor description, disclaimers,
evidentiality, irony etc. For instance, in identifying a conservative
ideology opposing liberal immigration policies, van Dijk
demonstrates a politician’s use of “disclaimer” as a discourse
strategy in the following statement: “I understand that many
people want to come to Britain to work, but there is a procedure
whereby people can legitimately become part of our community”.
The main purpose of his analysis was to demonstrate how various
ideologies can be articulated in various kinds of ideological
discourse strategies.
4. DATA AND METHODS
In order to analyze whether and how politicians used
Twitter to construct we-other contradiction in their discourse
during Gezi Park events between May 30-June 30, 2013, we first
began to identify official Twitter accounts of the political party
chairman (prime minister) and deputy chairmen in Justice and
Development Party (JDP) as the political party in power, and in
Republican People’s Party (RPP) as the main opposition political
party in Turkey. We were able to establish 6 Twitter accounts in
total for the JDP (one for the chairmen and 5 for the deputy
chairmen), and 14 official Twitter accounts for the RPP (one for
the chairmen and 13 for the deputy chairmen) for that period. 4
out of 9 deputy chairmen in JDP and 2 out of 16 deputy chairmen
in RPP did not have active Twitter accounts at that time.
Therefore, in total, the study focused on the tweets sent by these
20 politicians between May 30-June 30, 2013. Excluding re-
tweets and repeated tweets, 1357 tweets related to Gezi Park
events that were sent from the official accounts of the politicians
were collected.
This study aims to detect what the recurring linguistic
patterns in the tweets of the top level politicians are, and applies
van Dijk’s framework to understand what they reveal about the
ideological discourse strategies used by the politicians to construct
us-them differentiation during Gezi Park events. Based on an
initial review of all the tweets by three researchers separately with
respect to the discourse strategies offered by van Dijk [49], the
study identified five main ideological discourse structures relevant
to the context of the study and representing the recurring speech
patterns in the tweets of the 20 selected top-level politicians
during Gezi Park events.
The selected discourse categories as proposed by van Dijk
(2006) are: actor description and categorization, victimization /
burden, disclaimers and distancing, presupposition and
generalization, and lexicalization and metaphor. Table 1 gives a
brief description of each discourse category as explained by van
Dijk [49, 735-739].
The tweets sent by the top-level politicians of the two rival
parties are then grouped into 5 categories based on this
classification. We conducted some descriptive statistics on the
data using frequency distributions. We presented the total number
of tweets under each category, as well as their respective
percentages as a ratio of the total number of tweets sent by the
politicians in two major parties. We also statistically compared
these ratios in JDP and RPP using independent samples t-test. We
also qualitatively analyzed the tweets to underline the ideological
discourse strategies used by the politicians of each political party.
Table 1: Definitions of Discourse Categories Relevant to
the Study
Actor
Description/
Categorization
This category includes tweets of the
politicians involving descriptions of their
own group members or the members of
the “Other” group, using positive self-
presentation and negative other-
presentation. Politicians’ statements
involving “we”, “our”, “them”, “their”
words may reveal the use of this
discoursive strategy, such as “We are not
like someone who has taken stone in
hand, got Molotov cocktail, and sling.”
Victimization/
burden
The purpose of this discourse strategy is
to discredit “them” by referring to the
negative impact of “their” attitude,
behavior, and ideology. Statements of the
politicians pointing out the harmful
impact of Gezi Park events on the
protestors’ well-being and the possible
financial, social or cultural harms are
good examples of burden strategy.
Disclaimers/
Distancing
Statements that involve briefly
mentioning positive characteristics of the
others, but then focusing rather
exclusively on their negative attributes.
“There are also well-intentioned youths
among the protestors, but…” is a
characteristic example of a disclaimer
strategy, where the politician first appears
to have empathy with the protestors, and
then highlights that in general they are
harmful.
Presupposition/
Generalization
This strategy involves homogenizing the
actors on a qualitative basis such as
referring to them as “most of them, all of
them”, restraining with respect to time or
location in a general category through
statements such as “always, perpetually,
all the time, routinely, everywhere. Their
meanings are not clearly spoken, but are
presupposed to be known.
Lexicalization/
Metaphor
A concept may include a different
content, or similar comprehension may be
used flexibly through different words
dependent upon context, role of the
speaker, or demonstrator. The word
“chapuller” that become one of the most
important symbols of Gezi Park events
presents an important lexicalization
example in this sense.
We expect that Kemalist-secular and Islamic-conservative
fronts of the RPP party and JDP party respectively will
marginalize each other by utilizing the contradictions reproduced
by each other through the discoursive strategies mentioned above.
Since Gezi Park protests presented a concrete series of events that
produced contradictions leading to polarization, we pick up the
tweets sent by top party officials reflecting the official position of
party in question respectively.
One important point for this study is to determine how
political discourse and rhetoric innate to tweets fictionalize to
form a marginalization process. As it is noted above, the analyzed
tweets belong to top political figures in JDP, which is the party in
power since 2002, and in RPP, which is the main opposition party
since 2002. In the analysis, we aim to reflect how these two
parties reproduce themselves from the contradictions directed to
each other as polarized parties. This marginalization process
surely is through discourse via the tweets. Marginalization on the
basis of polarization through language is indeed a part of the
identity construction process.
Through social media, we experience a link between the
tweeters and followers in such a way that it generates a sense of
“us”; though it is not possible to determine who particularly
constitutes us. Marginalization is, in this framework, a negative
definition instrument developed against an external group (i.e.
them). Such a perception generates a prejudice with doubt and
aggression, so that all behaviors, thinking and habits of them are
interpreted as if it complies with the principle of “Anything you
say, or act, can and will be used against you”. Therefore, the same
issues or actions are interpreted differently; sometimes they
deserve to be praised but other times may be found ridicule. In the
Gezi Park events, some notions are used interchangeably to define
the very same acts, actors; such as freedom fighter or terrorist,
revolutionist or rebel, demonstrator or chapuller.
5. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS
In order to analyze the contents of the tweets sent between
May 30-June 30, 2013, we first scanned the tweets to detect any
recurring linguistic patterns, and then accordingly categorized
each tweet into 5 discourse strategies that we derived from the
framework developed by Van Dijk [49].
Table 2 shows the total number of tweets under each
category, as well as their respective percentages as a ratio of the
total number of tweets. Table 3 indicates the results for each
political party comparatively. The results illustrate the extent to
which politicians establish we-others contradiction using different
discourse strategies.
When we look at the overall categorization of the tweets in
Table 2, we see that about half of the politicians’ tweets in total
belong to “actor descriptions and categorization” category
(49.6%), followed by the “burden” category (16.3%). This may
imply that the discourse used by the politicians of the opposing
parties may be mainly characterized by a positive or negative
description of in-group members and out-group members.
Table 3 shows the comparison of tweet categorization for
JDP and RPP politicians separately.
In both parties’ tweets, we-others contradiction is mostly
established through actor descriptions and categorization (57,7%
and 46% respectively), implying that about half of the tweets
contain a message which focuses on the positive or negative
characterization of the participants of Gezi Park events (police
and protesters) or a description of each political party’s position
on the events. The tweets in this category uses adjectives and
nouns to present the participants either positively (e.g. as patriot
police force, people who care for the environment) or negatively
(e.g. as brutal police force, traitors fighting with police), and thus
establishes a distance with “the other” side. Similarly, politicians
generally highlight their position vis-a-vis certain viewpoints /
activities concerning the events by using words such as “we”,
“our”, “us” or “they”, “their”, “them”.
Table 2. Tweet Categorization of the Politicians in Total
Table 3. Tweet Contents of JDP and RPP in Total
Category of Tweets
Justice and
Development
Party Politicians
Republican
People’s Party
Politicians
# of
Tweets
%
# of
Tweets
%
Actor descriptions and
categorization (1)
242
57.7%
431
46%
Burden (2)
34
8%
187
20%
Disclaimers and
distancing (3)
62
14.8%
108
11.5%
Generalization (4)
55
13%
69
7.3%
Lexicalization and
metaphors (5)
26
6.2%
143
15.2%
Total
419
100%
938
100%
JDP politicians’ discourse in several tweets involves positive
self-representation and negative other-representation using actor
descriptions in order to marginalize “the other”, as shown below:
We are not like someone who has honked until midnight,
made noise pollution. We have not played pots and pans.”
We are not like someone who has taken stone in hand, got
molotov cocktail and sling.” R. T. Erdogan (JDP) (June 15, 2013)
Similarly, the opposition party mostly relies on actor
descriptions and categorization to highlight “their bad things”, as
shown in the example below:
Number of
Tweets
% of Tweets
673
49,6%
221
16,3%
170
12,5%
124
9,1%
169
12,5%
1357
100%
What is the difference between the images in Taksim and the
images in Syria? Assad uses chemical weapons against his
people, and he (Prime Minister) persecutes his people.” Umut
Oran (RPP) (May 31, 2013)
Using independent samples t-test, we also statistically
compared the politicians of JDP and RPP in terms of the
percentages of tweets in each category. We have found that there
were statistically significant differences between the two parties in
the categories of “burden” and “lexicalization and metaphors”,
such that the politicians of the main opposition party (RPP) were
significantly more likely to use tweets involving “burden” and
“lexicalization and metaphors” messages than the politicians of
the party in power (JDP). The mean difference is significant at
p<0.01 and p<0.1 respectively. No other significant differences
were found in the other categories.
It may be that RPP mainly attempts to influence voters by
drawing attention to the negative consequences of the attitude and
behaviors of JDP (burden). Because Gezi Park protests and the
response of the police force resulted in 11 people losing their lives
and several injured people, it is expected that “burden” can be a
major discoursive strategy and a tool of polarization mainly for
the opposition party, as shown below:
Recently, Governor said that all citizens are so valuable.
Some citizens who are that much valuable, are embraced with the
most expensive pepper spray.” Şafak Pavey (RPP) (June 15, 2013)
Although not as often, the politicians of the party in power
also uses burden as a discoursive strategy to discredit the other
side:
By this time, 166 of our police officers and 56 of our
citizens are injured due to these events.” Hüseyin Çelik (JDP)
(June 3, 2013)
Metaphors are chosen as a discoursive strategy to help
create a positive image for the protestors’ in the eyes of the
public, gain support and justification for their actions, and falsify
the actions of the governing party, and is therefore utilized by the
politicians of RPP more often than the JDP, as in the examples
below:
The standing man frightened the dictator.” Haluk Koç
(RPP) (June 19, 2013)
Yes Prime Minister, we are ‘depredators (chapullers)’ who
disrupt the order you try to establish.” Sezgin Tanrıkulu (June 15,
2013) (RPP)
When used by the governing party officials, metaphors may
serve the purpose of elevating themselves:
In Kazlıçeşme square, a bride and groom rushed into the
‘Great Master’(P.M. Erdoğan).” Ekrem Erdem (June 16, 2013)
(JDP)
For JDP politicians, the second most frequently used
strategy after the actor descriptions is disclaimers. This may
indicate that the governing party politicians intend to gain
sympathy of protestors and their supporters by giving an
impression that they understand well-intentions of the protestors
and blame “the others”, although they do not approve the
protestors’ behaviors, as shown in the examples below:
Our citizens who go to Taksim with pure intentions and
with no political or ideological accounts unfortunately fall into
the trap of those who have plans”. Hüseyin Çelik (June 1, 2013)
(JDP).
Taksim Platform rejected Government proposal to halt the
Gezi Park project on Friday. They called for more ‘resistance’ on
Saturday. Why?” Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (JDP) (June 16, 2013)
Lastly, generalization is another recurring speech pattern in
the politicians’ discourse for both parties. It serves to emphasize
certain characteristics of the specific actors as if they belong to the
whole group, thus seems to enhance the efforts to marginalize the
other side.
The best work they do in their lives is to stand and to
stop.” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (JDP) (June 21, 2013)
Now everyone is bored from the provocations of the Prime
Minister about mosque, headscarf, religion and sect. Even they
are bored from opening his mouth.” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (RPP)
(June 3, 2013)
Today all citizens in our country should be responsible,
since government doesn’t behave responsibly.” Erdoğan Toprak
(RPP) (June 14, 2013).
6. DISCUSSION
This study focused on the use of twitter as a medium of
political communication during the social uprisings. It aimed to
explore what types of recurring speech patterns can be identified
in the tweets of the top level politicians during Gezi Park events in
Turkey, and what they reveal about the ideological discourse
strategies used by the politicians. Based on a framework offered
by van Dijk [49], the study identified five main ideological
discourse structures relevant to the context of the study and
representing the recurring speech patterns in the tweets of the 20
selected top-level politicians during Gezi Park events: actor
description and categorization, victimization / burden, disclaimers
and distancing, presupposition and generalization, and
lexicalization and metaphor.
Utilizing these analytical discourse categories, the study
tried to explain ideological-based characteristics of the tweets and
to analyze how we-other contradiction is constructed in this
framework and how the other is marginalized in messages
containing 160 characters. Our findings suggested that Kemalist-
secular and Islamic-conservative fronts of the RPP party and JDP
party respectively marginalized each other by utilizing the
contradictions reproduced by each other through the discoursive
strategies mentioned above. The discourse used by the politicians
in their tweets is mainly dominated by a polarizing language.
Polarizing is defined as “supporting language for one’s self versus
pejorative language for others” [36].
Gezi Park events are perceived and represented differently by
the politicians of the two top political parties. The politicians used
certain ideological discourse strategies in their speech to
rationalize their ideas and convince their audience during social
uprisings, and to discredit the other side on the same single issue.
Our analysis also revealed that politicians guide the public into
some conscious direction that may produce and reproduce
marginalization and polarization among public at large that divide
the society into two conflicting parts.
As it can be seen from data that we have collected, top party
officials including the leaders from both parties frequently apply
metaphors, call out distancing strategies, and use a polarizing
language with a populist stance. Hence we link the strength of
Twitter, as a social media tool, with being a facilitative instrument
for re-construction of discoursive power for most of the public. As
noted before, Twitter generates a kind of discoursive power by
influencing minds of people as much as leader sermons,
newspapers, television programs, or other propaganda tools.
Individuals follow columnists, political actors, television
channels, economists, football commentators etc. that they believe
and confide in as authority/expert in their daily lives; they adopt
statements coming from them more easily. Similarly, discoursive
power points out to a supervision established through symbolic
practices embedded in the tweets sent, or shared by the politicians.
In that sense, reproduction of discoursive power associated with
cognitive control strategies [44] is clear through the tweets sent
during the Gezi Park protests.
Although the examined tweets are concerned with the same
concrete event (Gezi Park protests), due to the fact that the
discoursive arguments in the tweets differ, tweets are not
sentences written simply or inadvertently. On the contrary, they
are constructed as a prolongation of a more comprehensive
discoursive struggle. In this sense, tweets represent legitimization
or camouflage process or recoded state of reality. With reference
to this determination, our analysis aimed to reveal, with a
statement of van Dijk [45, p. 249], “the role of discourse in
producing, reproducing, deconstruction of power or how
power/domination relations are established in language and
discourse”. Statement of ‘to reveal’ here is used consciously,
because in the construction of discoursive structures,
social/political beliefs are extracted by making them implicit. This
is the process to generate political or social representations
enabling abstraction of such concreteness, or extension of a claim
by generalization of concrete actions or events within the frame of
mental models.
Presentation of a negated action, event, group, party, identity
by generalizing in such way also causes transformation into a
prejudice by making it a stereotype. Especially as it is seen in
tweets, some political actors use some themes, claims, metaphors
repeatedly. As Bauman [4] indicates such kind of repetitions do
not reflect shallowness. On the contrary, repeats or iterations are
indispensable to cultural reproduction. Thus, repetitions are
crucial to reduce faults and misunderstandings and to direct
followers in the direction of a common thought, or to form a
common language.
The results of the study reflect that, having consciousness
about the power and spread capability of social media, leaders use
their position to polarize the society, though they are about to
appease the mass.
The study has some limitations as well. First, it involved an
analysis of tweets sent by 20 top political party executives who
had actively used Twitter accounts during Gezi Park events. In
addition, we only included tweets from the members of the party
in power and the main opposition party members. Thus, the
sample size was rather small to make generalizations. Future
studies may work on larger sample sizes involving other
influential politicians, parties, and parliamentary members, and
examine polarizing language in their tweets. Studies may also
provide further insights into whether and how the language of the
politicians used in their tweets transforms before and after major
political or social events.
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