Internet Freedom in Turkey: System Error

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Computer users are pictured in an internet cafe in Istanbul. (UGUR CAN/AFP/Getty Images)

For some reason, Turkey, which boasts one of the most educated and technologically savvy populations in the region, has had a particularly hard time addressing internet freedom. In a country that boasts of its capacity to serve as a model of democracy in the Middle East, freedom of expression on the internet has been a long-standing problem; the Turkish government’s instinct has consistently been to apply broad, clumsy bans on any content that might possibly be objectionable.

It is part of a more general problem of creeping censorship. The Turkish press, as discussed in previous posts, has come under increased pressure. In recent years, Turkey has been particularly aggressive in attempting to police radio and television for “undermining the morality of minors.” Sex and the City II, for example, was banned from cable television because its representation of gay marriage was deemed dangerous to the Turkish family. Tobacco smoking villains in the famous cartoon TinTin similarly resulted in fines from the ever watchful – and humorless – eyes of Turkish bureaucrats. The result has been a media culture that has increasingly engaged in self-censorship to avoid fines and possible closure.

The Turkish government has been equally zealous in its policing of the internet. Youtube has been banned repeatedly, and for years at a time. The ban was implemented so clumsily that other Google-owned sites were banned as well. After a copyright complaint, Google’s blogging site, Blogspot, which hosts thousands of individual blogging sites, has similarly been banned. Tens of thousands of internet sites are currently banned in Turkey. Most recently, the popular website satirical website, Sourtimes, which has almost two hundred thousand views per day, has been targeted. Satire, apparently, is a dangerous thing in Turkey.

The situation seems likely to get worse before it gets better. Turkish government regulators plan to institute mandatory systems that will automatically filter web content starting August 22. The Telecommunications Directorate has produced a list of 138 “illegal words” that cannot be used on websites. Thus, a Turkish website devoted to “hot jazz” would run afoul of the law (“hot” is banned) as would domain names with terms like gay, confidential, confession, local, or blonde. Presumably, the bureaucrats at the directorate were not aware of the irony when they also banned the word “free.”

For good reason Turkish internet users fear “the death of the internet” and a continuation of the sort of creeping cultural repression that has been seen elsewhere. Media savvy Turks have already begun a web-based protest movement. The question is whether anybody will be able to access it after August 22.

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16 thoughts on “Internet Freedom in Turkey: System Error

  1. Yes they probably also are trying to block out the genocide of the Pontian Greeks who once lived there and the other groups who they murdered and drove out. Guess they don't want their people to access the slaughter that they did against the Christians. You make want to forget but we wont forget. Don't deny history, take it on the chin and be responsible for it. You robbed my grandparents & family out of their home and us of a history that would have been different. Shame on you but now you continue to try and stop your people from having access to the truth of the internet. There is a serious problem with any government that does this kind of thing.

  2. Unfortunately the article and the comments above lacks facts and discusses many different cases under internet censorship. Let me start from the last issue. Incumbent government did not make a decision to censor the internet. A seperate and independent entity regulates internet and communication affairs nationwide. What they did was basically providing four different internet packages to internet users. These packages include one free access pack which does not limit internet useage at all, and three other packages that brings restrictions to internet. These restrictive packages are named as 'child package' and 'family package' ; and as you can understand they target customers who would like to protect their children from adult content and child abusers. Last package is domestic access package and allows access to domestic websites only. So if someone would like to access internet without restrictions he/she can sign up for full access package. There is no price difference between these packages.
    Blogspot ban
    Blospot was banned because of copyright violations. Some blogspot users were using their blogs to broadcast sports matches via streaming. These matches were available to people who pay for them and broadcasting them on blogs is an illegal action. Think about a person broadcasting cable tv shows on his/her blog via straming. So, the TV channel asked Google to stop illegal broadcating. Google said I cannot control content of the blogs. TV channel sued Google and eventually the court banned access to blogspot. Is it a harsh decision? Indeed, yes. But it is not related with internet bans.
    Were there internet bans in Turkey?
    The answer is yes. Courts had banned Youtube for a while because 'it harbored videos that insulted some historical people'. This was one of the most nonsense bans done ever because people were already accessing to youtube via proxies and changing their DNS settings. Bannin the youtube for your citizens means simply closing your eyes to things going on right now. Anyways, the issue in Turkey is not as bad as it is perceived, bureaucrats and courts are clumsy and unprepared to copyright issues and internet use. Hopefully Turkey will overcome these challenges as democracy keeps settling down in the country.

  3. The article does not lack facts. While it is true that there will be "standard", "family" and "child" packages, it is still factual that all the LOCAL websites containing those "illegal words" will be shut down, and inaccessible, even for the "standard package" users. As in the above example, a Turkish website will have to be shut down if it contained the word "hot" in its domain name. However, the "standard package" users will be able to access the foreign websites even if they include those restricted words in their names.

  4. By the way, the above comment "Incumbent government did not make a decision to censor the internet. A seperate and independent entity regulates internet and communication affairs nationwide", is a very naive claim, at the very best. The decision to censor the internet, as well as the choice of those "restricted words", has been made by BTK (Institution of Information Technologies and Communication), which serves DIRECTLY under the "Transmission Ministry", or "Ulastirma Bakanligi" in Turkish. Therefore, BTK is directly a part of the incumbent government.

  5. Yes they probably also are trying to block out the genocide of the Pontian Greeks who once lived there and the other groups who they murdered and drove out. Guess they don’t want their people to access the slaughter that they did against the Christians. You make want to forget but we wont forget. Don’t deny history, take it on the chin and be responsible for it. You robbed my grandparents & family out of their home and us of a history that would have been different. Shame on you but now you continue to try and stop your people from having access to the truth of the internet. There is a serious problem with any government that does this kind of thing.

  6. Unfortunately the article and the comments above lacks facts and discusses many different cases under internet censorship. Let me start from the last issue. Incumbent government did not make a decision to censor the internet. A seperate and independent entity regulates internet and communication affairs nationwide. What they did was basically providing four different internet packages to internet users. These packages include one free access pack which does not limit internet useage at all, and three other packages that brings restrictions to internet. These restrictive packages are named as ‘child package’ and ‘family package’ ; and as you can understand they target customers who would like to protect their children from adult content and child abusers. Last package is domestic access package and allows access to domestic websites only. So if someone would like to access internet without restrictions he/she can sign up for full access package. There is no price difference between these packages.
    Blogspot ban
    Blospot was banned because of copyright violations. Some blogspot users were using their blogs to broadcast sports matches via streaming. These matches were available to people who pay for them and broadcasting them on blogs is an illegal action. Think about a person broadcasting cable tv shows on his/her blog via straming. So, the TV channel asked Google to stop illegal broadcating. Google said I cannot control content of the blogs. TV channel sued Google and eventually the court banned access to blogspot. Is it a harsh decision? Indeed, yes. But it is not related with internet bans.
    Were there internet bans in Turkey?
    The answer is yes. Courts had banned Youtube for a while because ‘it harbored videos that insulted some historical people’. This was one of the most nonsense bans done ever because people were already accessing to youtube via proxies and changing their DNS settings. Bannin the youtube for your citizens means simply closing your eyes to things going on right now. Anyways, the issue in Turkey is not as bad as it is perceived, bureaucrats and courts are clumsy and unprepared to copyright issues and internet use. Hopefully Turkey will overcome these challenges as democracy keeps settling down in the country.

  7. The article does not lack facts. While it is true that there will be “standard”, “family” and “child” packages, it is still factual that all the LOCAL websites containing those “illegal words” will be shut down, and inaccessible, even for the “standard package” users. As in the above example, a Turkish website will have to be shut down if it contained the word “hot” in its domain name. However, the “standard package” users will be able to access the foreign websites even if they include those restricted words in their names.

  8. Boycott Turkey! Protest this censorship (which, by the way is not new). Turkey presents a "moderate" face to the world, but is really one of the most oppressive countries in the Muslim countries. Boycott all Muslim and Communist countries (CHINA). To do otherwise is to aid and abet the suppression of human rights.

  9. By the way, the above comment “Incumbent government did not make a decision to censor the internet. A seperate and independent entity regulates internet and communication affairs nationwide”, is a very naive claim, at the very best. The decision to censor the internet, as well as the choice of those “restricted words”, has been made by BTK (Institution of Information Technologies and Communication), which serves DIRECTLY under the “Transmission Ministry”, or “Ulastirma Bakanligi” in Turkish. Therefore, BTK is directly a part of the incumbent government.

  10. Boycott Turkey! Protest this censorship (which, by the way is not new). Turkey presents a “moderate” face to the world, but is really one of the most oppressive countries in the Muslim countries. Boycott all Muslim and Communist countries (CHINA). To do otherwise is to aid and abet the suppression of human rights.

  11. Haha it is very funny to see that when there is an issue in Turkey every kind of extremist messes up; there is a Pontic revenger and a Crusader for now. Where are the armenians we lack them here.

    So great a nation Turks are that we made genocide,
    1. To the greeks in North and East Anatolia
    2. To the armenians in Eastern Anatolia
    3. To the kurds in the same geography as the armenians (who never killed each other)
    4. To the serbs don't know where
    4. To the crusaders who came peacefully to our country long before these other genocides.

    Come on lads, look how far we are coming from (central asia) somebody chased us (Mongols) to modern Turkey. All we did was creating a secure new land for ourselves. As whole European and American Nations did. Think of the kelts, Apachees, Aztecs etc. If we think those as genocides Homo Saphiens would be guilty of genocide of Neanderthals.

    For the censorship issue this goverment has a comprehensive plan for regime change. Turkey evolves form a laic and half-democratic law state to a presidential dictatorship with a taste of prgmatic islamism. This was once a theory but now it is a fact.

    This is a popular slogan nowadays: Freedom to kiss in busses !!! Crazy ain't it?

  12. Not a Pontic Revenger but someone who believes history must never be forgotten good or bad. That history should be available on the internet for everyone to see. The problem is when you allow a government to censor in years to come the people in that country are not fully aware of any atrocities that have occurred in the past due to the internet being censored. You say about moving forward, I don't find what Turkey is doing as moving forward. In fact its a government trying to deny and deprive their people from having knowledge. If you don't fight against them you don't know how far your government will interfere in your life. Speak up now before your deprived of any rights.

  13. Haha it is very funny to see that when there is an issue in Turkey every kind of extremist messes up; there is a Pontic revenger and a Crusader for now. Where are the armenians we lack them here.

    So great a nation Turks are that we made genocide,
    1. To the greeks in North and East Anatolia
    2. To the armenians in Eastern Anatolia
    3. To the kurds in the same geography as the armenians (who never killed each other)
    4. To the serbs don’t know where
    4. To the crusaders who came peacefully to our country long before these other genocides.

    Come on lads, look how far we are coming from (central asia) somebody chased us (Mongols) to modern Turkey. All we did was creating a secure new land for ourselves. As whole European and American Nations did. Think of the kelts, Apachees, Aztecs etc. If we think those as genocides Homo Saphiens would be guilty of genocide of Neanderthals.

    For the censorship issue this goverment has a comprehensive plan for regime change. Turkey evolves form a laic and half-democratic law state to a presidential dictatorship with a taste of prgmatic islamism. This was once a theory but now it is a fact.

    This is a popular slogan nowadays: Freedom to kiss in busses !!! Crazy ain’t it?

  14. Not a Pontic Revenger but someone who believes history must never be forgotten good or bad. That history should be available on the internet for everyone to see. The problem is when you allow a government to censor in years to come the people in that country are not fully aware of any atrocities that have occurred in the past due to the internet being censored. You say about moving forward, I don’t find what Turkey is doing as moving forward. In fact its a government trying to deny and deprive their people from having knowledge. If you don’t fight against them you don’t know how far your government will interfere in your life. Speak up now before your deprived of any rights.

  15. It is unsurprising that the AK Party administration has stepped up moral policing. I heard that it also sent a circular to all schools in the country reminding them to make sure that girls dressed modestly at end of year balls. This same government has also imprisoned everybody who has any genuine academic and intellectual worth and recently issued criminal proceedings against Funda Uncu the translator of the book Snuff, by Chuck Palahniuk. The amount of censorship and intolerance in Turkey is reaching new heights. I can only hope that the elections will deal a strong blow against AK Party and take some of the wind out of their sails.

  16. It is unsurprising that the AK Party administration has stepped up moral policing. I heard that it also sent a circular to all schools in the country reminding them to make sure that girls dressed modestly at end of year balls. This same government has also imprisoned everybody who has any genuine academic and intellectual worth and recently issued criminal proceedings against Funda Uncu the translator of the book Snuff, by Chuck Palahniuk. The amount of censorship and intolerance in Turkey is reaching new heights. I can only hope that the elections will deal a strong blow against AK Party and take some of the wind out of their sails.