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Turkish Teenagers Are Getting Arrested for Tweeting About the Protests

Last night, Turkish police raided 38 homes and made 16 arrests, including some teenagers. Their crime? Tweeting about the demonstrations.

“There is now a scourge that is called Twitter," Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, on live TV. "The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”

He was serious. Last night, police raided 38 homes where citizens who had tweeted messages sympathetic to the protests lived—16 were arrested. Many of them are apparently teenagers. The local police apparently honed in on tweets they deemed to be propagandic, and traced them back to protesters' IP addresses at home.

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Their purported crime? Using social media to "instigate public hatred and animosity." In reality, that means tweeting out supportive words or encouraging fellow citizens to join upcoming demonstrations. Members of the opposition party rushed to send lawyers to the prison where the demonstrators were being held, but none have been released yet.

The raids occurred in the Turkish city of Izmir, which had yet to become a focal point of the protest. It sets a disturbing precedent, especially for a country long considered to be host to a tolerant democracy and a relatively free press. This is the paranoid behavior of an autocratic regime; though it is unfortunately unsurprising, given the rampant police brutality that has wracked the nation over the last few days.

It also demonstrates a terribly poor understanding of how social media works, as did Erdogan's now-infamous 'menace to society' comment. The move is likely only to further incense protesters, generate more sympathy for them, and inspire the tech-savvy to block their IPs. Meanwhile, a social media post left by one of the protesters killed in action has helped transform him into a hero to the movement.

The arrests nonetheless trouble some local residents. A Turkish Reddit user writing under the handle GeziParkNews wrote that "there are journalists and soldiers kept in charge for months after getting arrested just like this. The most importing thing is that all the mainstream media is under pressure and censor."

"Social media is the only way to communicate freely for these innocent people. Izmir is like a symbolic city in Turkey for freedom and they started with Izmir. Help!"

The police, for their part, said more arrests for social media crimes were imminent.