Turkey Twitter ban: a new type of censorship

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Twitter logoThe closure of Twitter in Turkey is symptomatic of a new approach to internet censorship that seeks to control infrastructure rather than the content, according to Andrea Calderaro of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, at the EUI.

Overnight on Thursday 20 March, Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan shut off his country, and its 10 million subscribers, from the micro-blogging service Twitter, which he has vowed to “wipe out”.

The ban has been enacted under a new internet restriction law passed in February, which until now has only been used against small websites.

“This is not so much a ban on social media as expressing control over the infrastructure of the internet,” says Calderaro. “This conflict is not at the level of the content, but one level behind.”

Traditional journalistic censorship would see publication of certain material draw the ire of powerful parties resulting in the subsequent arrest of the journalist, and the possible closure of the newspaper.

“It is a wrong idea to assume this model applies to the internet,” says Calderaro. “This is different, the control is enforced at the level of the infrastructure. You need to understand the technology that is used to spread information online. The infrastructure is on a different level from the contents.”

Unlike the case of Google and China, there has been no direct negotiation between the company and the government. Instead the government has ordered Turkish internet providers to block Twitter’s IP address.

It is widely believed the ban has been enforced because of rumours circulating on Twitter alleging corruption in Erdogan’s government.

The ban has been widely criticized, including by Turkey’s President, Abdullah Gul, who managed to circumvent the ban to tweet “shutdown was unacceptable”.

With users already finding ways around the ban, and other social media sites still accessible, how effective the ban proves to be and its subsequent ramifications remain unclear.

“This is something we have seen in China for example where they have created their own service, but we have never seen a major shut down of a specific internet service in a country such as Turkey that is repeatedly asking to join the EU,” concludes Calderaro, “We need to see how this plays out.”