The recent decision of Turkish authorities to block social media sites sparked outrage and conversation amongst both locals and the global world. Amiss upcoming elections, the nation’s government announced a ban on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube when a picture of a Turkish prosecutor held at gunpoint after being taken hostage began circulating across multiple Internet platforms.
The closing of 166 other websites alongside these primary social media sites provoked significant questions about ideas of censorship and the freedom of speech. As Westerners looking at the situation from an outside perspective, our immediate thoughts may have included “how could they do that?” and “the government is oppressive” amongst other reactions of shock and horror. These thoughts are all valid, as we believe that the United States government could never manage to shut down all major social media sites without a public outcry regarding basic democratic rights.
However, it is important to look at the internal workings of Turkey in order to understand the government’s ability to control media. This ability is a result of a new Internet law that “allows Turkey’s telecommunications authority to block any website without seeking a court ruling first and without giving the website an opportunity first to remove the offending content.”
Photo courtesy of Flickr User opensource.com
Social media, a much more recent addition to Turkish society, has been used as a main tool for communication and information since its introduction. Its popularity in Turkey grew as a result of emerging criticisms of the mainstream media as pro-government and censored. However, this incident highlights the government’s ability to control this new form of media as well.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz commented on the actions as “definitely inappropriate”, suggesting that rather than shut down entire sites until certain content is removed, “there is always the option to delete the picture, rather than closing the whole system.” I agree with Schulz’ concerns regarding ideas about freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the country’s media situation. If the government holds the ability to control each and every one of these, is there really any freedom? I believe the biggest problem is the new law that Turkish authorities have enforced, as the inability for social media companies to publish information without a court order seems quite absurd. The law also encourages companies to remain silent and comply with the government because of their fear of being shut down. These fears, although rational, create a timid society where citizens lack basic freedoms associated with democracy.
The timing of this censorship also raises significant questions, and I wonder how the discussion surrounding it would be different if this wasn’t the second time the government intervened on social media right before elections. Regardless, the move reveals a major shift towards censorship that is extremely worrisome, especially for a country eager to join the EU.
Photo taken as a screenshot from Youtube User RT.
Efe Kerem Sozeri, a Turkish researcher and opposition activist, reported that in 2014 more than 70 Twitter accounts and 2000 tweets were blocked in Turkey. “This is where the freedom of speech in Turkey is. Any critical remark, even if it’s based on real facts, you are not able to say that, because the interpretation of the law is given to those courts who are under the strong influence of the justice ministry”, he said.
For an American citizen like myself, it is difficult to grasp the idea that I would legally not be able to share my unfiltered opinions via social media platforms or pictures that the Turkish government did not agree with. Basic democratic ideals must shift as our society shifts and adapts to technological innovations, and Turkey’s government is clearly lagging behind.
Feature Image Courtesy of Flickr User opensource.com