Humanity is now facing one of the worst crises throughout the history. The negative effects of Covid-19 pandemic can be seen in countries’ health systems, economies and almost in every aspect of people’s daily lives. From the outbreak of the coronavirus, the governments worldwide have been struggling to make viable decisions on public health, economy and security. Although there were a number of pandemics of diseases in the past, governments have been caught off-guard against this global health crisis. This pandemic has brought several issues onto the surface across the globe regarding state’s health systems and socio-economic structures. The countries with unstable economies and health systems are having a hard time to tackle with the possible outcomes of the measures taken against the spread of the coronavirus.
This pandemic has shaped, and still continues to do so, the policies of non-democratic regimes dramatically than the other political regimes. The most striking cases emerge from the regimes which are going through their transition from democracy to autocracy. Esen and Gümüşçü categorizes Turkey as a competitive authoritarian regime in which the fundamental democratic institutions and the rule of law are distorted by the leaders who come to power through elections. From the beginning of this pandemic, Turkish government has been trying to come up with solutions that prioritizes public health but does not harm the economy at the same time. Therefore, the measures are taken in accordance with this mindset of the leaders.
During this global crisis, the social media has shaped the Turkish government’s policies now more than ever. To be honest, it is quite perplexing to witness that in a country where the freedom of expression is highly limited by the regime. As the ever-increasing impact of the social media has become evident during this pandemic, the process is deeply shaped by the social media which altered and directed gov’t policies instantly. My suggestion is that the opposition has been gaining its strength with the assist of social media for a while now in Turkey. The traditional tools of democracy have been upended by the rapid technological developments. The role of social media has been increasing for sometime now, but for the regimes with anti-democratic tendencies this process is intricate due to government censorship and control. Against all the odds, opposition in Turkey has been struggling to make themselves heard through the several social media tools, thus social media created an effectual platform for mobilizing support across the country.
Furthermore, during this crisis, one of the most visible incident people witnessed is that the rivalry between municipalities and the central government. As the Mayors, coming from the main opposition party, of Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir gained popularity during the pandemic, government thus tried to subdue them in order to keep its grip on power, and accused them of forming a parallel state. Actually, the crisis enabled the Mayors of these three big cities to attain popularity and it can be easily seen on Twitter where people give countenance to them for their constant aids to the ones who are in need of financial support. Thanks to their donation campaigns and aids to all the local people without any discrimination, their popularity has increased now more than ever. Their success is in most visible form on Twitter, as they tweet every financial assistance to the locals and their policy actions in accordance with their transparency policy in their actions. These mayors proved themselves to be the servants of public and implemented actions including all groups in the society without polarizing people. These municipalities also conducted campaigns to distribute foods to street animals during this pandemic. Those actions made them so much favorable in the eyes of the local people and they were praised on social media due to their efforts in this time of crisis. Their problem-solving policies are perceived as efficient and outcome-oriented. Hence, people did not refrain themselves from praising these Mayors’ public aids constantly on Twitter. Overall, these municipalities adopted policies that are inclusive of all fragments of society and their success builds upon this unifying perspective, I suppose.
From the official reports on the number of cases and deaths, we can possibly argue that measures taken by the government have been helpful to stem the spread of the epidemic so far. However, there has been contestation against how these measures are implemented. To me, the most striking thing about the gov’t precautionary decisions against the novel coronavirus is that these decisions drew prompt attention from the people on social media, particularly on Twitter, as they were implemented regardless of their possible consequences. The failure of envisioning the possible outcomes of these decisions was at the center of the criticisms during the implementation of these measures. The effective usage of social media tools enabled opposition to demonstrate their discontent with the gov’t actions. Even though people were and still are afraid of being suppressed or face criminal action by the government, it did not prevent them from giving their opinions out loud on social media platforms.
Regarding the precautionary measures against the spread of the coronavirus, Turkish government has been avoiding a country wide curfew despite experts’ warnings, as Presidential Spokesperson, İbrahim Kalın, stated that that the Turkish economy cannot bear the consequences of full lockdown. Therefore, the government decided to impose weekend curfews instead of a full lock down. One of the most salient incidents so far has been the government’s 48-hour curfew in 31 major cities which was announced on April 10. This was a breaking point for the government, since it turned out to be a counterproductive decision afterwards. People highly criticized the government and the Minister of Internal Affairs, Süleyman Soylu, for not making an announcement to the public on the imposition of the curfew beforehand. This decision came as a shock for the Turkish people since they were informed just two hours before its implementation. People all around Turkey started posting pictures of highly crowded areas such as the supermarkets, bakeries and gas stations. They highly criticized the government for not informing them about the 48-hour curfew beforehand so that they can go out and meet their needs. Also, the opposition on Twitter faced with counter-mobilization by the pro-government supporters while these measures were taken. After people strongly criticized the government’s decision for not informing them in advance, Soylu posted his resignation, on April 12, on all his social media accounts to demonstrate that he was taking responsibility for the unintended consequences of the 48-hour curfew, yet his intentions were much debated among experts later. Even this action showed us how much power social media has over the governments’ decisions, but most strikingly in the competitive authoritarian ones. When the resignation appeared in the social media accounts of the Minister, it caused a hot debate on social media and ended up as a trend topic almost for two days on Twitter. Although this resignation was not accepted later by the President Erdoğan on April 13, the reasons behind this resignation were much debated among academics and experts. To my view, despite the rumors about the motives behind this decision, it was mainly the outcome of the heavy public criticism on social media, especially on Twitter regarding the 48-hour curfew on April 10.
Furthermore, the debate on social media also polarized people around discussions regarding the income inequalities among Turkish citizens because people with low incomes did not have their basic needs (mostly food) in stock. Since the competitive authoritarian regimes attain their power mainly from the mass public support, the regimes’ survival depends upon the approval their constituencies. Social media provides non-democratic governments a fruitful feedback mechanism since they might have difficulty in reaching reliable information on their citizens’ opinion of gov’t decisions.
However, one can also argue that there are certain topics on which the opposition on social media are facing with limitations, yet in the upcoming post-Corona period we might witness a drastic change in the sense that how the decision making processes are conducted and the new actors may emerge as the key ones in these processes.
All in all, social media has been one of the driving
forces during the Covid-19 pandemic in Turkey. There is still much to be seen
in the days to come, especially for the regimes whose survival rely on the mass
 Esen, B. & Gumuscu, S. (2016). Rising Competitive Authoritarianism in Turkey. Third World Quarterly, 37(9), 1581-1606.