The Turkish government wants to control platforms like Facebook and Twitter more – supposedly to prevent agitation. The truth is that President Erdogan is concerned with something else.
They took his job away from him, put him in prison, and finally drove him out of the country. Because Can Dündar criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he was no longer able to work as a journalist in Turkey.
Dündar, 59, the former editor-in-chief of the “Cumhuriyet” daily newspaper, now lives in Berlin. Together with Correctiv, he set up a media platform, Özgürüz (“We are free”), but this too is blocked again and again in Turkey. The fact that Dündar’s voice did not go completely silent in his home country is mainly due to social media. He has almost five million followers on Twitter.
“A New Dark Age”
Other reporters critical of the government are doing the same; television journalist Banu Güven, for example, is followed by 2.5 million people on Twitter, even though she has not worked for a large Turkish media group for a long time. “For us, Twitter is the last form of counter-public,” says Dündar.
Now that should be the end. The Turkish parliament passed a law in the middle of the week that massively extends the state’s control over providers such as Twitter or Facebook.
The law should apply from October 1st. It requires platforms with more than one million users to register with a branch in Turkey. In future, users will also have to register with their names and addresses. In addition, platform operators are to be forced to delete posts immediately after complaints from those affected.
Anyone who does not abide by the rules must face fines of over 120,000 euros. Authorities should also be able to massively reduce the bandwidth speed in the event of violations. Turkish digital law expert Yaman Akdeniz speaks of a “new, dark age”.
President Erdogan has more or less abolished press freedom in Turkey in recent years. Almost all newspapers, television and radio stations belong to corporations that are close to the government. Dozens of journalists are in prison.
Despite various efforts, the regime has so far failed to bring the Internet under its full control. Although 140,000 websites were blocked in Turkey last year alone, 40,000 Twitter posts and 10,000 YouTube videos were deleted. In a ranking on Internet freedom by the NGO Freedom House, Turkey lags behind Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Azerbaijan.
And yet young people in particular use social media to discuss freely and openly. Already in 2013, the demonstrators organized themselves in the Istanbul Gezi Park via Twitter and Facebook. The opposition politician Ekrem Imamoglu owes his victory in the local elections in Istanbul 2019 to a clever digital strategy, among other things. And recently, students torpedoed a video talk by Erdogan by tweeting thousands of people during a speech by the President under the hashtag “you won’t get our voice”.
Erdogan is active on Twitter himself, the president has 16.4 million followers. But to this day, social media is a place where liberal, resistant Turkey comes together. The government obviously wants to change exactly that.
“You won’t get our voice”
Erdogan has long had an eye on social media. During the Gezi protests, he called Twitter “the worst plague of society”. When internet users recently insulted his daughter Esra and her husband, finance minister Berat Albayrak, he again announced the consequences. “We don’t accept that 83 million citizens are defenseless against social media terror,” he said.
Officially, it is now said that the new law will act against insults and false reports on social media. “While conventional media operate within a certain order, social media does what it wants,” said AKP ruling party leader Cahit Ozkan.
In fact, it should be about expanding censorship. This law is the last nail on the coffin of Turkish democracy, warns journalist Can Dündar. “When it comes into force, there is nothing left of freedom of expression in Turkey.”