Sunday, March 23, 2014

#TwitterbannedinTurkey creates an opportunity for Turks to create and broadcast more than a single story about their nation

The last time my free speech was censored in Turkey was right before a local election. The entire Google Blogspot domain was shut down. The reason cited for the shutdown of Google Blogspot was someone live-streaming football games over their blog. I was new to Turkey. The fact that this censorship of an entire domain (not just one person's site) happened right before a hotly-contested election struck me as interesting.

Freedom of tweet!
Last week, I was scheduled to give a workshop to Istanbul educators on how to use Twitter. As it happened, my workshop was scheduled for the heart of Taksim Square. That Twitter workshop had to be cancelled due to protests that were so huge they made the New York Times.

The protests were a reaction to the death of a young man named Berkan Elvan who had run to the store for bread in a neighborhood with ongoing protests. On his trip to the store, Berkan was shot in the head with a tear gas canister. Berkan had been 14 at the time he was shot, had lingered in a coma for 269 days, and finally passed away at the age of 15. His death has not been investigated, nor has anyone been held accountable.

Berkan is a member of a religious minority, the Alevis, as are many of the other victims of state violence this year.

How strongly did people in Turkey feel about his death? Take a look at his funeral.

No chirping allowed.
Amazingly, less than a week later, Berkan Elvan's death is no longer in the headlines. The conversation has been completely changed away from police brutality. This week's outrage is that Twitter has been censored. Why? So that stories that would be "insulting" to those in power can not be accessed. An election is less than one week away.

Excessive drama and outrageousness happens every week in Turkey. On the one hand, that's what makes it so fascinating to live here. Yet I don't want to be like one of those Jews in Nazi Germany who were in denial about how bad it could get. They didn't leave when all signs were screaming that they should.

Twitter had a bad night in Turkey!
Faster, little bird, faster!
Hoşgeldiniz! [Welcome]

I hope for his sake he doesn't miss!

The Sultan of Twitter

The Byrds! The Byrds!

The Twitter ban may not be as cinematic as it was in Nazi Germany, but there is no doubt about it, banning Twitter was the equivalent of a book burning. All of the tweets people send are just shorter books. Even the United States State Department agrees it was a book burning.

The first episode of Twitter censorship ended with Turkish citizens breaking all records of Twitter use. As you can see, the memes about it were delightfully creative. The second episode of Twitter was harder to surmount as the government had banned more spots.
The Turkish people were ready.
Power to the people!
The government of the
Turkish Nation
seemed to willingly
trash its "place brand"
as an up-and-coming
secular democracy.
It occurred to me watching Turkish creativity erupt due to Twitter being banned in Turkey, that it was the Turkish people's golden opportunity to create more than a single story about Turkey. "The Single Story" is an idea of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that we often get just one story in our heads about a place and it creates the entire identity of a people.
Oh, he won't fit!
Zipped shut!

Yes, the actions of  their government may have received all of the negative headlines, but the response has been fun [so far] and it continues to be beautiful. Why shouldn't the world hear and have many, many stories about Turkey!
 Sing, Turkish tweeters, sing!

You may be interested in these other posts about censorship in Turkey and elsewhere:

You can follow both my blog in Facebook at EmptyNestExpat, and on Twitter at @EmptyNestExpat.

Update: Berkin Elvan's Funeral March was memorialized in miniature by miniaturist Alina Gallo. You can read about it here.


Sheila said...

Thanks Karen for keeping the rest of us informed. There are so many issues out there in this great wide world, and it seems like most of us in the USA are too concerned about ridiculous stuff like what celebrities are doing, or what the next great song, style, food, etc. is going to be... said...

Thank you for a most informative post, Karen. The more I hear and read about the behaviour of Prime Minister Erdoğan, the parallels with Hitler in the 1930s become increasingly apparent.

Karen said...

Thanks for your comment, Sheila. All that celebrity coverage helps keep Americans from studying and caring about the issues of the greater wide design.

Imagine if all those column inches were used to interest people in the world instead. America would be a different place and so would the planet.

Celebrity coverage often seems like news censorship 'by substitution' to me.

Karen said...

Ricky, thank you for your faithful comments on my blog. Anytime comparisons can be made between someone and Hitler, they should change course!

Catherine Bayar said...

Thanks for this post Karen. The Turkish people have taught me the best ways to face adversity: with a sense of humor, no apathy and fluid determination to retain what is rightfully theirs. Should be an interesting week ahead!

Backto Bodrum said...

Even I signed up to Twitter because of the ban - I need a course on how to use it though.

Dan Perry said...

Thanks for the info, Karen. I was unaware that there was censorship in Turkey. Were you able to get around the ban via proxy/ssh/some other device? Are Turkish people finding it easy to continue to use Twitter?

Some governments clearly haven't learned that online censorship doesn't work. The only exception I'm aware of is North Korea with its complete ban of the internet, and even that regime is bound to crumble someday.

Karen said...

Catherine, Back to Bodrum and Dan, I love having your comments on my blog. Thanks for stopping by. Catherine, it will be an interesting week ahead! The drama, the drama! Back to Bodrum, I would love to show you how to use Twitter! Dan, I'm so glad you're here. I'm using a VPN to get around the ban. One of my Twitter tweeps declared the Twitter ban like "reading under the covers with a flashlight after you're Mom has told you to go to bed!" So true! Keep coming back.

Turk's Head said...

For Turkish “followers,” secular and religious both, Twitter represents justice in a country where the judiciary is no longer independent; it represents an independent media in a country where the government controls the media and imprisons journalists. It represents a means to appeal in a country that passes Internet censorship laws and abuses antiterrorism laws to target lawful dissent and opposition. It is the public square – a safe arena for democratic protest in a country where the freedom to assemble is met with teargas and water cannon.

Karen said...

Thanks for your comment, Turk's Head. Your comment was very eloquent. I appreciate you sharing it on my blog.

MT MightyTravels said...

I saw something about this before, but thank you for the details. Really is a shame how far some people are willing to go to stay in power.

Torsten @

Karen said...

Thanks for your comment, Torsten.

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