Monday, May 16, 2011

News about the Turkish Internet Ban Protests

Here is a quick roundup of about yesterday's protests about the proposed filtering system of the Internet.  (For more about the ban and how it came about click HERE. )

From the New York Times

ISTANBUL — Thousands of people in more than 30 cities around Turkey took to the streets on Sunday to protest a new system of filtering the Internet that opponents consider censorship.

The Information and Communications Technologies Authority, known by its Turkish initials as B.T.K., is going to require Internet service providers to offer consumers four choices for filtering the Internet that would limit access to many sites, beginning in August.

From The Wall Street Journal

“These filters would turn the Internet into a state-controlled area,” said Serkan Dogan, 29, an Istanbul software programmer who said he was taking part in his first political demonstration. “You’d enter a channel leading you to the server of the state, which distributes the Internet to millions of users. The system enables the control of citizens…like telephone tapping.”

Protesters also have been upset by a BTK announcement that it will ban a list of words from use in domain names. According to press reports, those banned words would include things as common as “blonde” and “sister-in-law.”

Earlier this month, BTK head Tayfun Acarer told reporters that the accusations of censorship were baseless, as use of the four proposed state filters — children’s profile, family profile, domestic or standard profile — would be voluntary. However, Mr. Acarer gave few details of how the system would work.

From CNN:

The new filtering rules will be enforced beginning August 22, the government said.

A "Enemies of the Internet" report issued this month by Reporters Without Borders included Turkey on its 2011 list of "countries under surveillance."

The BTK was "not fooling anyone when it claims to be rendering a service to Internet users by giving them a choice between a lot of restrictions and fewer restrictions," the report said.

Turkey already blocks more than 7,000 websites, "in most cases without reference to any court," the report said.

From The People's Daily in China:

Other Internet websites also include calls for their users to join the marches, including, yasaklamakyasaktir. com,, and others.

Protesters march simultaneously in 35 Turkish provinces, including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bursa, Antalya and Trabzon.

It's really stupendous when China comments on your Internet policies. Here's another related op-ed piece by Claire Berlinski, which explores the background of the protests.

I think to fully understand the passion behind this, you have to grasp the degree to which this culture polices itself by means of shame, family pressure, and neighborhood gossip. Everyone is in everyone's business, all the time. The authoritarianism of the state is only one component of a wider authoritarian culture; young people here have the sense, and it is quite justified, that everyone is telling them what to do--their families, especially. There's no way to escape the rigid social rules.

That's quite a blanket statement but, from what I've seen, it's not inaccurate. It seems that  "all and all, we're just another brick in the wall" is the general feeling amongst the young people here. That's  a pity, too, because the Turkish youth represent such an undiscovered vitality and  an unused opportunity for the whole nation, I think.

It's also important to note that many of the newspapers and television new reports stress the  asserted negative social effects of the Internet, such as, destroyed marriages and the rise of porn and general decadence of the Turkish society. (Perhaps it is because those are the two sectors most threatened by the Internet.)

People who may be deeply suspicious of this Internet thing, people whose index fingers have never once touched an "Enter" button, read such things and vote accordingly. (They are conservative in the old meaning of the word, before it was corrupted to mean just about anything.) I suspect there is a great deal of fear in some quarters and that has led to supporting these imposed restrictions on the Internet.

The same things they once said about television. Corrupting our youth! It will lead to a breakdown of society! 

Of course, regulation of television broadcasting in Turkey is hardly a good model. Years ago, a single slipup, a crass remark by a guest or a poor judgment by a show producer, could get an entire station a one- or two-day ban. While that sort of heavy-handedness doesn't happen so much nowadays, the manner in which things are conducted now is really odd and, frankly, nonsensical. For example, even on cable television, showing smoking is banned (replaced by a blurred circle) but violence- including violence toward women- is freely shown. So if the policy toward Internet seems haphazard and arbitrary, it doesn't especially surprise me.

I'd agree for the most part with Berlinski's assessment but I'd also add that  the concerns and the dissatisfaction and aspirations of Turkish young people are, by and large, ignored by the major parties. It is definitely an untapped voter demographic when you consider the average age here is much younger than, say, Europe. 

I was struck the other day by an interview with Robert Fisk, writer and  Middle East correspondent for The Independent. He was discussing the causes for the unrest of late that we have seen in the Arab nations. He noted that, in all of these countries, the leaders tended to treat their people like children and, without consent or consultation, they would arbitrary decide what was "good" for them. For that type of leadership, there was no need to waste time in deliberation or debate about the subjects. (America under George Bush had the same problem, by the way.) The "infantilization" of the nation gradually- but inevitably- became oppression as the nation, in effect, grew up.  Perhaps, on a smaller scale, we are seeing the same thing here.

Turkey is growing up under the noses of its leaders. Isn't that remarkable? But then, remarkable things are always happening here, and  that's what I really truly love about Turkey and the Turks.

UPDATE: According to an informative website,  Kamil Pasha  (thanks to Bulent) gives more details about how these bans have come down.

The recent bans have not even had the fig leaf of a court decision, but have come in the form of notices (sometimes emailed) from the government’s Internet Office (TİB, İnternet Daire Başkanlığı) to the hosting companies, ordering them to close down the specified sites (or sites with certain words in their domain names, see my post below) and threatening unspecified punishment if they don’t comply. Is this even legal? Closing down an $18 million company without a court order, just by the flick of a pen or a pixel?

Also it appears that I spoke much too early about the bad old days of television censorship heavy-handedness. The attitude has been given a new life

TV and radio are also being hyper-regulated, with a recently passed broadcasting law giving the prime minister the authority to temporarily halt broadcasting. It bans “racy” images from the screen and gives the government’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) the right to define the professional and ethical rules that employees must follow…. The new law allows up to 50 percent of a company’s shares to be owned by a foreign company.

Racy images and too much darn kissing! ( )

By the way, the comment section for the Kamil Pasha site is also interesting! Here's a short clip of the protest in Istanbul.

Taksim Istanbul Walking Against Internet Censorship - May 15, 2011

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  1. I didn't go to the march yesterday, but from what I've read(I'll be honest-- just Hürriyet English and Turkish, and a host of articles in English that pretty much parrot TDN word-for-word), I'm left with the feeling that newspapers have very much downplayed the attendance to the protests, as well as how important the issue is to a lot of people-- perhaps assuming their readers are mostly the folks who can't work a mouse? It also felt they they did whatever they could to make the whole thing seem rather "fringe."

    What also bothers me is the continued lack of a clear statement from BTK about what the new regulations are and how they'll be implemented and enforced. When I read it in Turkish, I think, "Oh, I didn't understand that because it was in Turkish." Then I read their statements in English and I'm like "Aha, I didn't understand that because it's totally contradictory, or empty, or it flat-out just makes no sense whatsoever." Which isn't unusual but I guess it means my Turkish is getting better.

    So there's the censorship opposition's claim that we'll have to enter ID numbers to use the Internet so our usage may be tracked, and that the police will come crashing through our doors if we enter a banned site, or use a VPN or alternative DNS. And then there's BTK's claim that they're offering a useful but not mandatory service and everything is fine, no censorship here, move along now.

    How does anybody ever figure out what's true?

  2. I have even heard that Skype will be banned and that seems unlikely but then, as you say, who knows? Stranger things have indeed happened in Turkey.
    Even the standard filter is really a too much and unnecessary, in my opinion. I have also heard that since the filter will go through your local ISP, switching to a VPN will not bypass the problem. At one time, it was a very simple matter of switching to another DNS but that is becoming harder and harder. Another victory for the nanny state, i suppose.
    It's all really quite a mess. By the way, check out this article, especially the first comment. I doubt whether I could have found a comment that so accurately sums up a certain predominating mentality.

  3. I must re-read George Orwell's 1984 to remind myself how spookily close his work of fiction is to becoming reality!

  4. Re: that comment, wow. It almost seems fake! That Zaman article is the first to state (though unsourced) that it will be a crime to enter forbidden sites...

    Sigh. With Erdoğan threatening everyone that all who oppose him in the election must be part of Ergenekon (note to self: avoid reading other headlines when looking for censorship info), I don't suppose we can expect them to back down on this one.

    At least there's Tor (, favored by the oppressed the world over, including the Egyptian protest organizers...

  5. Bulent MurtezaogluMay 16, 2011 at 6:06 PM

    Oh they tried to get eksi sozluk shut down too. We talked a lot about this over at Jenny White's place:

  6. Wow, now that's what I call a very good read. Thanks, Bulent.

  7. Bulent MurtezaogluMay 16, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    Just for completeness, it looks like this kind of footage doesn't make it to the news channels (the 'net rumor is that they are afraid to cover such stuff):

    Ahmet Şık is still in jail waiting for the indictment but he managed to put "Imam'in Ordusu" into daily use. I don't know if that is good or bad.

  8. Bulent MurtezaogluMay 16, 2011 at 10:08 PM

    Oh and on your comment about the media coverage of the 'net: the people on the net are not too terribly fond of the regular media either. As luck would have it, Turkish folks on twitter made the hashtag #adimedya [apparently] trending. Can't blame them.

  9. This is becoming a world wide attitude toward the mainstream media nowadays. There is, in the US, a strong feeling in the US that the mainstream media is now only the voice of corporate interests and the power elite with a very specific agenda. Sometimes there are very odd convergences between the US and Turkey. :)

  10. Many thanks, Bülent. The Kamilpasha comments and links made for some thrilling reading for the evening, keeping me up way past my bedtime yet again. I'm thinking of becoming your Internet stalker just so I can read the cool stuff you post.

    And I mean that in a good way.

    As for the protest clip, if that's a mere "thousands" of people (which, to me, implies fewer than 10,000, and these reports are talking about the whole country), then those marchers are just circling around the block.

  11. What a pitty that Turkish youth don't move a muscle for much more importants events and injustices like anaesthetized but they easily warm up when someone touch their opportunities for dating and flirting wih opposite sex, entertainment, stealing music and films from internet. What a shame!

  12. Well, Turgay, most people are motivated by self-interest so that is only to be expected. Most people don't think of their rights and liberties and whatnot until they "feel" a encroachment on their idle pleasures or their personal privacy. In the US for example, people didn't really care so much about being stripped of their rights until TSA agents were tickling and groping them. And in England, the British youth were pretty much silent until the government talked about raising tuition fees.
    However, I think you underrate the Turkish youth is you think that is the ONLY reason they are protesting.

  13. Bulent MurtezaogluMay 17, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    Thanks Stranger, it really isn't that hard to just type/link what I know -- not for me anyway.

    Nomad, perhaps we'll see some better alternatives to the mainstream press emerge within our lifetimes. One thing is clear: we no longer need the people who own the printing presses, the transmitters or the frequency allocations. If restrictions don't descend on the net[1] we can do without them. Good riddance.

    [1] Since we talked about DMCA and copyright extensions and such, I'll add one fun tidbit: it turns out copyright in England (which evolved into the US one eventually) has in its roots, at least in part, a wish to control the printing press through a legal monopoly and granting of licences -- the protection of actual authors come later. I quote from here:

    Domestic control over printing was further tightened by use of the Privy Council. On November 16, 1538, Henry VIII decreed that all new books had to be approved by the Council before publication, a requirement that remained in effect in some form until 1694. Use of governmental bodies for censorship had its obvious disadvantages in an age that was becoming increasingly resentful of royal control. The solution was simple: exercise indirect control through the grant of an exclusive charter to the printing and book trade, which would carry out royal wishes in order to benefit from monopoly status. Thus, on May {Page 7 }4, 1557, to check the spread of the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Queen Mary and King Philip granted a royal charter to the Worshipful Company of Stationers of London, thereby concentrating the entire printing business in the hands of the members of the Stationers Company. The Stationers Company charter was confirmed two years later by Queen Elizabeth, but this time with the goal of suppressing Catholicism.

    Of course the net doesn't quite work like that and the machine you have in front of you is really no different (be it in hardware or the kind of connectivity except bandwidth) than the machine that serves your blog. Our bureaucrats perhaps don't consciously think though all this, but they were very quick to impose licensure on hosting companies here. Sometimes institutional knowledge/culture is so strong that the, um, right thing happens w/o any of the implementers being aware of it.

  14. About your printing press analogy: You might be interested in a post I wrote for another blog.

    Corporate Goliath sues Hacker David: Sony v. GeorgeHotz

    I explore the same bit of history there and the consequences to those nations and empires that attempt to quash the freedom of the press. We are in fact reliving this bit of history.

  15. Whatever fires them up is fine with me, just so long as they're fired up and something changes.

  16. Thanks for sharing this post. Government from all over the globe should leave the internet alone. As a responsible subscriber of an Australian broadband service provider, I believe the government should focus more on the welfare of its constituents without attacking internet freedom.


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