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JERUSALEM – The directors of a youth movement helping to lead the anti-government protests rocking Turkey participated in a 2009 U.S. State Department-sponsored training summit on how to use social media to organize societal change, WND has learned.

The keynote speakers at the summit were three architects of the online component of President Obama’s 2008 campaign. The Obama campaign’s use of social media for grassroots community organizing in 2008 was considered a watershed moment in political fundraising and movement building.

The Alliance of Youth Movement’s annual summit in Mexico City took place Oct. 14-16, 2009.

Participating in the event were the leaders of the Genç Siviller, or Young Civilians, a youth movement in Turkey that has been using Twitter and Facebook to help organize the protests in that country.

The Young Civilians’ Twitter account called for youth to “occupy” Gezi Park to protest pending government plans to turn the park into a complex with a new mosque and shopping center. The park protests last Friday quickly grew into the largest and most violent anti-government protests that Turkey has seen in years.

Young Civilians members have been arrested at various protests.

On Tuesday, the group posted an open letter on its Facebook page to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan lamenting the park plans and noting that movements for reform have sparked protests throughout the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

Also on Tuesday, Erdogan blasted the use of social media, including Twitter, in fomenting the unrest sweeping his nation.

“There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” Erdogan said, addressing the protests. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”

Young Civilians was founded in Turkey in 2006 with the stated aim of establishing a “liberal democracy in Turkey based on civil rights, rule of law, tolerance and justice.”

WND found that the leaders of the group, Ceren Kenar and Turgay Ogar, participated in the Alliance of Youth Movement’s 2009 summit.

The summit was sponsored by the State Department in conjunction with Facebook, YouTube, Hi5, Google, MySpace, Gen Next, Howcast Media, MTV, PepsiCo, Mobile Behavior, Univisión, Interactive Media Inc., WordPress.com and others.

The conference opened with a two-minute video address by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who praised the use of social media to organize, “build movements and change lives.”

Clinton hailed “the vanguard of a rising generation of citizen activists.”

Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual also opened the summit.

The keynote speakers were three directors of Obama’s online campaign in 2008: Joe Rospars, the campaign’s director for new media; Scott Goodstein, external online director of Obama for America; and Sam Graham-Felson, director of blogging and blog outreach for the campaign.

According to a State Department description of the event, participants were slated to discuss a variety of practical topics, including “politics, resisting violence, and technology; sustainability and long-term planning; and the use of viral video in social movements.”

The summit sought to explore ways to “advance grassroots movements seeking positive social change through 21st century technology and tools,” according to an official description.

Seminars were given on the use of social media to push for change and to launch a global network to empower young people mobilizing against violence and oppression.

The summit one year earlier led to the creation of Movements.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to identifying, connecting and supporting digital activists.

Founders of Movements.org include Google director Jared Cohen, a former adviser to both Clinton and Condoleezza Rice; and Jason Liebman, CEO and co-founder of Howcast, the How-to website.

Movements.org is intended to serve as a hub for discussion, resources and news about digital activism around the world.

With additional research by Brenda J. Elliott

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