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The seven deadly sins of tweeting about politics

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As #CameronMustGo hashtaggers are tweeting their fury about the fact that mainstream news outlets haven't picked up their online campaign, it's time to look at the worst sins committed by those who take their political insights to Twitter.
 

Accusing the BBC of bias for not reporting things that... aren't stories.

Although this particular sin has been heightened today by #CameronMustGo tweeters attacking the BBC for refusing to pick up on their hashtag campaign, it is a time-old, enduring trope of angry political tweets. If the Beeb doesn't mention Some People Being Angry at the Prime Minister, whether it's stated in a hashtag or via a handful of people protesting somewhere, it is accused of rightwing bias. If it does anything else, it's accused of leftwing bias.


Failing to understand the point of the House of Commons chamber.

This is a particularly popular genre of political tweetery: taking a screenshot of MPs debating in the Commons, and commenting on how heartless and detached they are because not all 650 of our representatives are present for whichever debate the tweeter has seized upon. Even if it's a late afternoon adjournment debate about the capacity of the West Anglia Rail Line. This lack of a fundamental understanding of how the Commons is supposed to work is nicely parodied here:

And here are some real ones:


Saying "this keeps being removed" when it really doesn't.

A nefarious internet conspiracy is inevitably pointed out whenever someone makes a meme of a politician of the ruling party being ripped apart, usually by a civilian wide-eyed with sincerity, on television. For some reason, many users decide that Twitter's staff can be bothered to rake through its billions of tweets to delete a minor skirmish from the Daily Politics on a Tuesday in order to protect the reputation of a little-known UK government minister. And they beg you for a retweet.


Tweeting a picture of a politician you admire/Owen Jones beside a big block of text.

A particularly offensive Twitter sin, mainly due to the fact that the font is always terrible on these things. Someone somewhere sits and transcribes a favourite quote from a respected heavyweight politician, or a junior shadow minister, or Owen Jones, highlights it all and hits Tempus Sans, pastes it over a picture of their fave public figure and then watches their treasured work take flight among fellow Twitter sinners.


PMQs verdict/review/in short – and then just listing your party's attack lines.

If watching Prime Minister's Questions with Twitter by your side, it is common practice to give your snap "verdict" on the exchange. This means politicians and supporters of both Cameron and Miliband's parties give us the same review each week: summing up their party's attack lines. Sometimes "privatising the NHS" is exchanged for "tax-cuts for millionaires", but each week is pretty constant.


Nazi/Communist references.

This is the GCSE school of politics tweets: linking rightwing parties with Hitler, and leftwing parties with Marx.


Orwell references.

Well, really it's just the one reference: They "looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again... ". A favourite accompanying picture for this one is the Prime Minister with a pig for a face, but, as seen below by one inventive tweeter, it can equally be used to say something cynical about the Labour party:

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue