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Turkey Increases Internet Restrictions

2017-1-5

The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often had a difficult relationship with the Internet.

The government has repeatedly attempted to restrict news and social media websites during times of political unrest. The restrictions do not generally last very long or appear effective.

Many Internet users in Turkey have turned to tools such as VPNs or Tor to avoid the measures.

FILE - A Twitter app on an iPhone screen is shown.
FILE - A Twitter app on an iPhone screen is shown.

However, the Erdogan government’s thinking about the Internet may be hardening after recent events. They include the recent attack on an Istanbul nightclub, the killing of Russia’s ambassador and the government overthrow attempt by a military group.

Politics and Social Media

Observers and civil society groups say the Erdogan administration has been moving to restrict Internet and mobile phone access to the rest of the World Wide Web. They add that, for the first time, the administration is showing no signs of backing off any time soon.

The Turkish leader has made clear that he does not like social media. Erdogan has criticized Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. "To me, social media is the worst menace to society," he said at a 2013 event.

Zeynep Tufekci is an expert on technology and society at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She says Erdogan wants to show that social media hurts families and society. The reason for his statements and periodic blocking of social media sites, she says, is to try to keep the public's attention away from critical or embarrassing stories online.

"Erdogan likely still has enough supporters to win elections, but to continue to win, he needs to keep them off social media,” Tufekci told VOA. “His game is to scare them about all that comes from social media.”

Some researchers fear that the Erdogan government's recent suppression of free expression is a sign of things to come.

"When there's an attack -- say an explosion -- nationwide restrictions are often imposed" said Alp Toker, a researcher and spokesperson with the organization Turkey Blocks.

What is new – and more troubling – says Toker, is that these restrictions come with efforts to block links to TOR or VPN providers. These tools are popular for going around online censorship.

Such services were restricted last month after the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey.

In recent months, many media workers have also been imprisoned.

These developments have many worried about what people can say.

"People are afraid of speaking up, especially online," Toker said.

Is there hope for Internet freedom?

Free speech activists say that there may still be hope.

Toker says Turkey can still win back its Internet freedom, but only if lawmakers and technology companies around the world start to notice what is happening.

He added that "the rest of the world, particularly the U.S. and Europe, would be well advised to take a look at the situation in countries like Turkey and step up the effort to defend their own digital liberties."

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Doug Bernard wrote this story for VOA News. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

menace – n. a threatening or dangerous person or thing.

censorship – n. the system or practice of censoring books, movies, letters, etc.

embarrassingadj. made to look foolish in public

access – n. a way of getting near, at, or to something or someone