Turkey in vanguard of throttling social media


After suicide bombers killed 45 people at Istanbul’s main airport last week, the Turkish government appeared to take a step that has become increasingly common around the world in moments of political uncertainty: restricting access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Reuters reports:

Turkey denies that it blocks the Internet, blaming outages last week and earlier this year on spikes in usage after major events. But technical experts at watchdog groups say the blackouts on social media are intentional, aimed in part at stopping the spread of militant images and propaganda. Countries such as China and Iran have long kept tight control over online media, but human rights and Internet activists say that many more democratic governments are now using Internet cutoffs to stifle free speech under the guise of fighting terrorism. 

Government-ordered Internet restrictions can include outright blocking or ‘throttling’ that slows certain websites to the point where they are unusable. 

“It’s becoming the go-to mechanism for governments trying to control the flow of information,” said Peter Micek, global policy and legal counsel for Access Now, a group that campaigns for digital rights and monitors shutdowns. “It is still the Wild West in terms of what’s acceptable behaviour and what violates human rights online.”

Andrew Finkel, a writer based in Istanbul for the past 20 years, was fired from Today’s Zaman in 2011 after submitting a column that criticized his editors for failing to speak out about the prosecution of journalists, Newsweek reports. In response, he founded press freedom organization P24, a platform for independent journalism supported by the National Endowment for Democracy:

Finkel describes Turkey’s “pool” media, so-called because a group of AKP associates pooled their money to buy Turkuvaz Media Group, which owns several major outlets, such as the popular pro-government dailies Sabah and Takvim , “sheer instruments of propaganda. They give very little value to their own integrity, to accuracy,” Finkel says of such outlets.

Turkish journalist, author and filmmaker Can Dündar spoke at the House of Commons last week about the state of politics and media freedom in Turkey, at an event hosted by the Centre for Turkey Studies.

“I’ve come from the biggest prison for journalists in the world,” Dündar (left) told the audience. “There are close to 40 journalists imprisoned in Turkey — we are competing with China.”

Erdogan had grown so alone that he moved to make peace deals with Russia over the jet’s downing and with Israel over its killing of several Turkish activists on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010, after railing against both countries to voters, The New York Times adds.

“I think this is an indicator of how desperate they are,” said Cengiz Candar, a visiting scholar at the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, and a former participant of the World Movement for Democracy.

“We treat Erdogan as the cause, but in some sense, he is the consequence of Turkish society — he is our creation,” said Hakan Altinay, the director of the European School of Politics at Bogazici University in Istanbul. “We have learned that even though we have the hardware of democracy — institutions, elections — our software is not good. We are too attuned to status, too willing to submit to authority.”

Turkey’s Democratic Decline
House Foreign Affairs Committee
Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats Subcommittee
July 13

07.13.2016 2:00pm 2200 Rayburn, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.  Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats


Henri J. Barkey, Ph.D.
Middle East Program
The Wilson Center

Fevzi Bilgin, Ph.D.
Rethink Institute

Mr. Alan Makovsky
Senior Fellow
Center for American Progress

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