Since the mid-2000s, Turkey has had one of the most restrictive internet censorship regimes in the world. In addition to blocking websites for sharing copyrighted content and adult material, it has also made politically-motivated bans. These affected major sites such as Twitter and Wikipedia. Why and how does Turkey censor its internet? Keep reading to find out.
How censorship of the internet began
Before 2007, there was occasional censorship. One major example was a site that claimed there was corruption in the military being banned. There were also sites for sharing music which were blocked at the request of the Turkish Phonographic Industry Society.
The first major move was the passing of a censorship law to protect minors in 2007. Internet Law No. 5651, which regulates publications on the internet, has since expanded and many sites have been blocked using this regulation. The range of “undesirable” content has included pornographic sites, but also popular shopping, blogging, and video sharing sites like YouTube and Blogger.
The law created a unit that would be responsible for bans and blocks based on a series of nine crimes defined in the law. This unit operated within the government regulator for information and communication.
The evolution of censorship
However, criminal courts have since held up blocking decisions that are based on a number of grounds that are not covered under the crimes. These include crimes against the state, terrorism, and organized crime. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the internet law violates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
In recent times, internet shutdowns during elections have become common. This raises issues of access to information and of the possible effect that blocking sites can and does have on democracy.
The website Turkey Blocks monitors these blocks. Among these, they have logged Periscope being blocked during football matches, Google’s blog hosting service Blogspot, and shopping sites Alibaba and AliExpress.
Information sites have been blocked, such as Wikipedia in 2017. There have also been blocks of international alcohol brands including Guinness, Heineken, Jack Daniels, and Absolut Vodka. Local traditional liquor brand Yeni Raki was also affected. In each case the Instagram and Twitter profiles were impacted. In addition to actual blocks, nationwide slowdowns have also occurred after a terrorist bombing in Turkey’s capital.
The future of the free internet in Turkey
Through selective technology, Turkey continues to block even individual tweets on Twitter, making it impossible to view certain tweets if accessing the site from inside Turkey. According to Twitter, there were a whopping 6,651 requests to remove content in the second half of 2017. This can be compared to 432 requests in the first part of 2014.
The requests for takedowns have expanded to Tumblr as well. Using the Law 5651 effectively allows a request to be fast-tracked, leaving no oversight or scrutiny as to the reasons behind the request. It seems as though Turkey will continue to censor more and more online content as time goes on.