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The phenomenon of defamation

It is hard these days to find someone not engaged in social media. Social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook were created to increase interaction between people and provide fast and accurate knowledge about what is happening in the world. These are worthy goals, but in recent years people have been using these platforms to insult and humiliate one another, and to share fake information.

Any statement made by a politician causes endless debate on social media, with people accusing one another of adopting an opposing view or serving the interests of other countries. In this respect, social media is playing a significant role in word-of-mouth advocacy and getting people to engage in daily politics. The more time people spend on social media, the more political ideas are spread. What they write and say pushes them to join the ranks of a particular group.

Social media is playing a significant role in word-of-mouth advocacy and getting people to engage in daily politics. The more time people spend on social media, the more political ideas are spread.  
— Sinem Cengiz

 

In recent years, social media has played a crucial role in elections worldwide, and has changed the nature of political campaigns. This has become more obvious in Turkey, which on April 16 will undertake an important referendum on a constitutional change for a shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system. As the date approaches, the battle on social media is escalating, with both sides disregarding ethics, principles and respect.

Those saying “yes” to the change accuse those saying “no” of siding with the plotters of the failed coup attempt on July 15, and therefore of being terrorists. Those saying “no” call those saying “yes” traitors or stupid. Unfortunately, these feuds have become a popular phenomenon on social media. As Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmu recently told CNN Turk, it is not right to launch a “lynching campaign” against either side in the referendum. One should be aware of the fine line between defamation and freedom of expression.

In particular, those who have responsibilities — such as journalists, politicians and academics — should think twice before writing anything. It is their foremost duty to inform the public accurately. This was conveyed by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, who criticized rectors, district heads and public administrators taking part in the referendum campaign. “What they do is meddlesome. They shouldn’t make this issue an object of media,” he said on Feb. 3, warning politicians to stay away from polarizing attitudes. This stance should serve as an example to all.

Those on either side of the referendum should not face defamation or humiliation. Both sides have equal rights as citizens, so they should be free to express their opinions. It should be accepted that both sides are adopting stances that they believe are best for the country, in which they all have to live together. It should not be so easy to defame someone just because that person has a different viewpoint. This phenomenon on social media is not specific to Turkey; it is a global problem that should be put under the spotlight.

• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. She can be reached on Twitter @SinemCngz