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Session R4929 (Social Media, Feminist Praxis, and State Power), 2017
Discussions of internet freedom often posit Western principles and practices as ideals, fixate on state regulatory discourse, or take the form of the “climate report” that color-codes free, partly free, or not free territories on a world map. Such interventions can help to draw attention to repressive conditions, but they lack nuance and fail to describe and reflect upon users’ everyday experiences in detail. In doing so, they miss an opportunity to consider whether the concept of internet freedom is embraced and how it is shaped by users in different parts of the world.

This talk will discuss findings from a collaborative ethnographic study of social media use and internet freedom struggles in Turkey. We interviewed 40 social media users in Istanbul in December 2014. Our informants come from diverse and socially progressive backgrounds and included LGBTQ community members, women and feminists, Kurds, activists, professional journalists, trade union leaders, television news producers, lawyers, students, bloggers, hackers, and scholars. Many of our interviewees have been on the frontlines of free speech struggles in Turkey. Our informants’ comments about social media use and internet freedom tended to converge around a theme that we call the transmit-trap dynamic, a widespread, affective disposition toward social media within a culture of economic conglomeration, politically-motivated monitoring, and user risk. The transmit-trap dynamic accounts for the ways in which Turkish social media users find themselves simultaneously empowered and circumscribed by social media platforms in the context of state repression as these platforms are used both as tools of resistance and oppression. Put simply, users see social media as a necessary and credible tool for communication, yet they are also highly wary of being harassed, surveilled, or otherwise negatively impacted by their social media use. This is a complementary phenomenon to what has been called “networked authoritarianism”—a third generation of strategies for government internet censorship and control that sets out to effect cognitive change rather than to deny access to online information or services. By privileging the perspectives of people affected by such strategies, the heuristic of transmit-trap emphasizes the ground-level experiences of networked authoritarianism and highlights the important role social media play as trustworthy and necessary communication platforms for minority groups within Turkey. Beyond the government’s repressive attitude toward and use of these networks, what distinguishes social media use in Turkey is the high level of awareness users possess about government attempts to manipulate the mediascape.