Exactly how does censorship work in Turkey? Like this:
March 31: 2 members of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP/C) hold Turkish prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz hostage; they post a picture to Twitter of Kiraz at gunpoint.
April 1: The Turkish government prohibits any media organization that shared the hostage photo from covering Kiraz’s funeral.
April 2: The Turkish government launches a criminal investigation of seven Turkish newspapers, accusing the organizations of “spreading terrorist propaganda” by reprinting the hostage photo.
April 6: A Turkish court order bans 166 websites for continuing to share the hostage photo. Hours later, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have removed all instances of the photo and are once again fully operational within Turkey.
April 7: Google remains accessible by responding quickly to Turkey’s request to remove all links to the hostage photo.
But here’s the catch:
In the initial 2 hours of Twitter’s ban, 3 million tweets were posted from within Turkey.
Turkey is no stranger to government censorship of the internet; as a result, workarounds were in place long before this week’s events. The Hürriyet Daily News reminded citizens to simply use a VPN or change their computer’s domain name settings in order to access the blocked websites. And business continued as usual.
So, who gets the W—censorship or freedom of expression?
The hostage photo is definitely in the category of Images You Have No Need To See, but its publication is far from an act of terrorism. The Daily Hürriyet defended its use of the image: “Opinions, accusations or sloppy remarks voiced in the heat of incidents become indistinct in time and are ultimately replaced by the verdict of history. When today’s history is written in the future, our current prime minister will be noted as a political personality who punished the media and banned journalists from working during funerals. We just want to do journalism.” Newspapers report the news; individuals respond to the news—for better or worse, the internet was used this past week as intended.
Chairwoman of the Turkish Press Council, Pınar Türenç, aptly responded to the incident by stating, “You cannot close the whole library, just because it includes some banned books. This would be unreasonable and irrational. So it is also meaningless to block access of the Turkish nation to social media networks, which have many benefits to the public, due to some inappropriate content.” The Turkish Constitutional Court agrees with Türenç and declared Monday’s website ban unconstitutional.
Internet giants such as Twitter and Facebook have more recently announced that they would appeal the ban, but only after acquiescing all-too-eagerly to Turkey’s demands on Monday. Maybe they knew the Turkish censorship machine couldn’t be stopped in the short term. Or perhaps they knew they had already won when #TwitterisblockedinTurkey became the tweet heard ‘round the world.