Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attempts to cut off Turkey’s access to Twitter, YouTube, and now Facebook has been met with resounding defiance from students and others who rely on the platforms to communicate with the world.
“There is no democracy. There is no human-rights protection. The president is doing whatever he feels like and doesn’t care what the public wants. The lives of Turkish people are not secure any more. We can’t trust the police or the government. We want a free, civilized, secular country,” DD, a student in Istanbul, told VentureBeat on Thursday.
Like others in Turkey interviewed for this story, DD asked that their name be withheld for fear of government reprisals.
Erdoğan’s moves are seen as a desperate attempt by a career politician to squash widespread dissent at what many Turks consider a corruption-plagued government. The Twitter and YouTube cutoffs come at a pivotal time for the world’s largest secular Muslim country. Erdoğan is facing local elections, and he has been met with widespread dissatisfaction from many secularists in the country who charge he has attempted to establish an Islamist agenda in the country, which Turkey’s constitution forbids.
The Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to questions Thursday.
Erdoğan blocked the country’s access to Twitter last week and did the same for YouTube on Wednesday. Sources inside Turkey fear that Facebook is next. Internet-savvy Turks have relied on Twitter in particular to mobilize street protests against Erdoğan, and the platform has proven useful in alerting protesters to police actions against them.
“Since social media is the primary organ of modern communication, related bans are affecting the Turkish youth’s communication, awareness, education, and participation in national and international affairs,” AT, another student, wrote in an email to VentureBeat on Thursday. “The bans can also be considered a violation of human rights as they are blocking the communication during such a hard time for Turkish people.”
As early as March 7, Erdoğan threatened to block Google’s video service. When discussing YouTube, the prime minster proclaimed he “will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook.”
Thus far, Facebook is still operational. Indeed, I spent the better part of the morning communicating with several sources inside Turkey. The sources said they believe Erdoğan will cut access to Facebook “any minute.”
RT, another Turkish college student, said the ban is having minimal impact on the protests and that many are working around the bans.
“There are ways of changing your internet settings to get onto the internet sites. Everything basically depends on what happens this Sunday. We don’t care about their bans, they don’t work anyway.”
The U.S. State Department issued a statement on the Turkish government’s actions:
“We urge the Turkish Government to unblock its citizens’ access to Twitter and ensure free access to all social media platforms. The United States supports freedom of expression in Turkey and opposes any action to encroach on the right to free speech. We urge the Turkish Government to unblock its citizens’ access to Twitter and ensure free access to all social media platforms.”
Asked what is the Turkish people’s message to the outside world, AT put it to VentureBeat in an email this way:
“Please be aware of this dictator and let everyone know what we’re going through.”