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February 13, 2013, Wednesday

Twitter and politics

I admit it; I'm an addict. I am addicted to Twitter. I cannot help checking the latest tweets on an ongoing basis. Boring meetings, a cab ride, waiting in line, transferring at an airport -- these are often colored by sifting through Twitter. Also, I let others know what I am doing and disseminate news about my work through this social medium.

According to Monitera, a social media measurement agency, there are 6.2 million Turks actively using Twitter every month. There are now more than 9 million Turkish tweeters pointing to an increase of 33 percent from last year. Apparently more Turkish women (53 percent) are tweeting than men (47 percent). Eight million tweets are sent per day in Turkey which demonstrates a 470 percent increase in a year. In other words, we are all tweeting almost five times more than last year. While Wednesdays are the most favorable days for tweeters, the evening hours from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. are witness to the most intense tweeting in Turkey. Approximately 61 percent of sharing involves a picture -- predominantly from Twitter's own service -- while 22 percent share videos. An average Turkish tweeter has about 320 followers. Among smartphone users, BlackBerry users top the list of tweeters. Only 10 percent of tweets involve sharing a link -- something I do often, as I share interesting articles with my followers. About 60 percent of tweets mention someone while 20 percent of tweets are re-tweets. The most popular Turkish political figure among the tweeting community is President Abdullah Gül. At the time of writing, he had 2,817,713 followers. He is followed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has about 500,000 less followers.

These are interesting statistics about Twitter use in Turkey. What does all of this mean for politics? First of all, Twitter has become such a dominant social media that no politician can afford to ignore it. Even Erdoğan, who shunned Twitter some time ago, now understands that it matters. Many ministers use Twitter effectively, at times making announcements and providing news. President Gül is an avid tweeter. He writes his tweets himself and uses it very effectively. His genuine and natural pictures from his official visits contribute considerably to a link between the presidency and the people. He is able to penetrate the otherwise politically disinterested groups such as youths and engage them effectively.

Twitter has also transformed the filtering of news. As we only receive tweets from the people we ourselves choose to follow, we obtain selective pieces of news and information. I mostly read and become informed about political events through Twitter. The analyses from people I follow give me adequate added information about current events. This is course happening at the expense of traditional websites. Websites are struggling to keep up with the storm caused by Twitter, Facebook and others. Only those who provide easy-to-use sharing buttons are doing relatively better. Of course, content is still the most important aspect of news and information. Yet, the ease with which one can access and share it is also becoming increasingly important.

Can political movements make better use of social media than they are doing now? I believe that they can but it requires disciplined teams that can work on these things seriously. Politics in this country is more than complicated. Social media makes political events, statements and communication altogether even more challenging. We are all living in real time; so does politics. We hear, criticize and condemn political developments all at once, often supporting it by visual content. Not all politicians are yet in tune with these trends but they will soon need to adjust to the tweeting reality.

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