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March 24, 2014, Monday

’Twitter ban: Burning books in 21st century’

Following the Turkish government's shocking decision to block access to Twitter that came only hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared he was going to ban the social media website, top figures in world politics, including European Parliament head Martin Schulz, slammed the move, as did the general public in Turkey.

However, Erdoğan's response was more than scary: “I would not mind if the whole world takes a stand against me.” According to some, this way of responding to criticism resembles the discourse of past Turkish dictators who ruled the country under military coups; sanctions from the international community were ineffective in stopping their autocratic and arbitrary decisions. Meanwhile, President Abdullah Gül stood against the Twitter ban in recent statements to the press and in tweets, which he did not stop posting after the ban. Apart from Gül, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç; Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, who is a member of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party); and some other AK Party deputies have not upheld the ban and continue using Twitter regularly by circumventing the block. The ban came after the online circulation of wiretapped phone calls allegedly involving Prime Minister Erdoğan, a number of ministers and high-level business moguls.

In his Monday piece, Hürriyet daily columnist Taha Akyol referred to a recent statement by a US State Department official likening Turkey's Twitter ban to “21st-century book burning." Akyol said, “This is a very severe criticism," and added that 44 percent of the Turkish population uses social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, according to a July 2013 MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center survey. “By now, this must be near 50 percent,” Akyol wrote. The columnist also said that the number of social media users is at 73 percent among those between the ages of 18 and 24,  and 63 percent for Turks between 25 and 35. Fifteen percent of people who are 55 and over use social media. “The figures show that the ban contrasts with demands of the new generations,” Akyol commented. “In July 2013, 69 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 were against a [minor] restriction to social media, let alone a ban, which did not occur at the time. Fifty-five percent of the older generation was also against the restriction. Today, it must be a higher percentage for those opposing the Twitter ban,” Akyol wrote. He also pointed out that the government has acted irrationally by implementing such a ban, especially since it has distributed free tablets to students attending public schools and is urging Internet use.

With respect to the legal aspect of the ban, Akyol first quoted President Gül as saying, “Only a web page on which the crime took place can be blocked, not the whole of websites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube." Akyol also cited an exemplary ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). According to Akyol, a hacked phone conversation between a Slovakian deputy prime minister and a Slovakian minister of justice revealed an illegal act about an insurance firm. In a court case concerning the posting of the illegal wiretapping on the Internet, the ECtHR ruled that even though the wiretap was unlawful, uploading it on the Internet was not a crime because the intention was to notify the public of an illegal act and protect the public's interest.

Habertürk daily columnist Umur Talu criticized the government's response to the corruption allegations that shook the country on Dec. 17, which it claims are a plot to topple it. In reference to the widely circulating claims and phone leaks revealing graft and bribery, Talu asked, “If this was a coup attempt and you [the government] prevented it, what are you trying to prevent now? … If all of the claims are lies, why do you vehemently block access to Twitter and even block Google's DNS?

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