During the night of Friday the 15th of July, as Turkish soldiers attempted to stage a coup and oust the Turkish government, MFAs and diplomats were slow to comment on events. By the time official statements were issued by the State Department or Downing 10, social media networks were flooded with images and video of soldiers storming TV stations and tanks shelling the Turkish parliament.
The statements from most MFAs offered the same message- the coup was an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government and as such it must be stopped. On Saturday morning, as the soldiers staging the coup began to surrender, MFAs and foreign ministers congratulated the Turkish people on surviving this assault on their democracy.
Since then, however, the tone of Western diplomats has altered dramatically. As the trending hashtag on Twitter changed from #TurkeyCoup, to #TurkeyPurge, MFAs have called on President Erdogan and his government to respect democratic processes and resist the urge to use the coup to amass even more power. Yet still the purge rages on in Turkey and on social media.
Over the past two days, the traditional media has joined the chorus and proclaimed Erdogan a President turned Sultan.
Yet through all this, Turkish digital diplomacy channels have been all but silent. The only response so far came on the 16th of July. In a series of four Tweets Turkish diplomats offered a clear frame of what had transpired in the country: an attempt was made against Turkish democracy, the attempt was halted by the Turkish demos and the government is once again in full control of events.
Since July 16th, most Turkish embassies and consulates have refrained from uploading content to Twitter or Facebook. This was also the case with Turkish officials and national institutions.
As such, Turkey’s critics have monopolized the post-coup debate.
But that has changed in recent hours. Since this afternoon, Turkey has mounted a digital diplomacy blitz aimed at regaining control over the discourse pertaining to events in the country. This Blitz seems to focus on four main themes.
Theme Number One: Emphasizing that the Erdogan Government was Democratically Elected
This Tweets aim to remind social media audiences, including foreign populations, diplomats and media outlets, that the Erdogan government was democratically elected and is still supported by the people of Turkey. Such Tweets have been published by both Turkish embassies and the Turkish Presidency.
Theme Number Two: A Show of National Unity
The second theme emphasizes the national unity now felt in Turkey. This Tweets aim to demonstrate that while Turkey is criticized abroad, it is united from within and that all parties in parliament share the same goal- stability.
Tweets are also meant to remind social media audiences that Turkish opposition parties also denounced the coup attempt against the Erdogan government. Tweets dealing with national unity have been published by Turkish embassies all over the world including London, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. In addition, they have been Tweeted by the Turkish Presidency.
Theme Number Three: Demonstrating Brutality of Coup Soldiers
The most dominant theme in Turkey’s digital diplomacy blitz is the focus on the apparent brutality of the soldiers partaking in the coup attempt. In recent hours, embassies in London, Berlin, Brasilia, the UN and Tel Aviv have all shared video depicting violence against Turkish civilians. Videos also feature attacks on Turkish institutions such as the parliament, the presidential palace and police stations.
Both types of videos may be seen as a response to the attacks on President Erdogan and his purge by depicting the coup as an attack on democracy itself. These videos might also be a digital countermeasure to videos shared online depicting violence and lynches of soldiers who partook in the coup.
Theme Number Four: International Support
Finally, some Turkish embassies are still Tweeting messages of support from other governments. Yet as the post-coup Turkey takes shape, these messages of international support have become rarer.
Summary- The Battale Over Narratives Wages On
It is hard to tell whether Turkey’s digital diplomacy blitz will succeed in changing the social media discourse which informs the traditional media’s coverage which informs foreign policy. What is certain is that Turkey has realized that while the coup has ended, the battle over narratives wages on.
Finally, it should be noted that the blitz could have something to do with the WikiLeaks publication of thousands of AKP emails earlier today.