As a hopeless Facebook addict, saddened YouTube aficionado and American expatriate, my time in Turkey has been one hobbling Internet evisceration after another. The leader of the Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, filed a criminal complaint against Facebook last week for permitting a user to create a group claiming Kılıçdaroğlu was a member of the radical and outlawed political party, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
YouTube was banned in Turkey a few years ago for allowing posting of videos “defaming” the all but deified founder of the modern Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It isn’t impossible that the New Media bastion of pleasure which is Facebook might meet the same fate.
In the original complaint, Kılıçdaroğlu’s lawyers stipulated that they wanted Facebook banned, but they’ve since retreated from this position. Maybe they backed off out of concern that Turkey’s 22.5 million users would put down their çays and riot, but it is more likely that their new strategy of establishing “a nongovernmental ethics commission of journalists established to deal with insulting or immoral content” will do the same job in a more Orwellian (but less upsetting to the citizens) manner than an outright ban.
Now now now, hold your horses; they aren’t looking to restrict speech, they just want the offensive material taken down. Freedom of speech has its limits, and a respectful tone and meter of lawful discussion must be encouraged by an independent panel of journalists, who will ostensibly in no way parrot the wishes of the state which created it. They’re here to make sure the Turkish people are privy to a certain standard of quality in their political discourse, that’s all.
The consistent application of this principle of oversight is, of course, political gagging; a chilling effect, which is exactly what the Turkish establishment (and all rulers) would truly cherish.
Serdar Kuzuloğlu, a Turkish columnist, wrote in response to the state’s continuing efforts to curtail internet free speech a few months ago:
“Let me write what I have written a thousand times once more. YouTube is just a cover. The actual goal is silencing the opposition and founding a media that practices self-censorship out of fear … [They] have succeeded at both.”
Restricting speech of any kind only further solidifies the power of those who currently hold it, as they will be the ones determining which speech is offensive and which is not. It should come as no surprise when speech critical of the state becomes “offensive”‘ and is punished, or at the very least silenced, and that speech which celebrates the holders of power is left unmolested.
The Turks I know are hopeful; skeptical that the state will attempt to ban Facebook. Taking candy from ravenous New Media users doesn’t sound like an especially wise political move, but alas, if the Turkish state was able to take down YouTube, Facebook doesn’t appear an invincible redoubt.
The proposed limiting of speech by the Turkish government is just one more nail in the coffin of the belief that the state is here to help or protect people, or at the very least listen to the needs of its subjects. The state serves the interests of the elite who seek to maintain and enlarge their power over others, and like any hierarchy, the shit rolls downhill. Complaining about those above is a dangerous maneuver to risk.
Better to not say anything controversial, follow one’s culturally-sanctioned leaders, and choose from amongst the authorized political doctrines. If people don’t comply with such restrictions, on Facebook and in “real life” (whatever that means), some dastardly individual might just point out those damn nude emperors all over the place and some actually substantive politickin’ might occur. Oh no!