“Turkish judges don’t understand the internet”

Once again youtube in Turkey has been blocked. The biggest problem according to many people: Turkish judges don’t understand the internet.

(published in daily newspaper De Pers)

It’s ridiculous, says economy student Hatice, to think you protect Atatürk by banning the whole of youtube because of one insulting video. Turkey closed the popular video website again last week because of a video in which Turkey’s founding father Atatürk was insulted. “He doesn’t need that kind of protection”, says Hatice as she watches music videos in an Istanbul internet café. “Closing youtube because of such a film, now that’s insulting Atatürk!”
The ‘insulting’ movies are usually of poor quality and suggest that Atatürk was gay. Başak Purut, a lawyer specialising in technology: “Youtube is partly a domain for teenagers of fifteen, sixteen years old. They make such movies and the courts, like most Turks, should not take them seriously.”
Based on a law that makes it possible to close a website when it provides illegal content (including porn, drug usage and terrorism) it is simple to file a complaint against a site. The court doesn’t investigate, but asks the biggest internet provider to close access to the site, and that’s it. When the offending movie is removed, the site can be re-opened – but most of the time, similar movies are still available, till somebody else files a complaint against them.

“Turkish judges”, says Alper Alkalin of the liberal youth group 3H, “don’t know how the internet works. That’s the biggest problem.” 3H demonstrated in front of the court building when the youtube ban was decided on. Alkalin: “They don’t know that there are tens of thousands of videos on youtube and that it doesn’t make sense to close down the whole site because of one video. If somebody breaks a Turkish law on the internet, then deal with that person or ban that video.”
A new law would meet these complaints: all sites that allow anyone to upload content to the internet have to give their contact information to the Turkish authorities. So when a Turkish law is broken, the authorities can ask the site to remove the concerned content. The problem is that the complaint procedure exists alongside this law, so sites can still be closed after a complaint. Besides, there are also sites which don’t want to remove content. WordPress (on which you can start a weblog) is apparently one of them. That site, and all weblogs in its domain, have been blocked already for months. Turkish wordpress-bloggers all moved their weblogs.

Most internet users in Turkey don’t know anything about the wordpress ban. Blogs are not so popular. Youtube is, and the site is missed. For example by Osman, who is surfing in an internet café: “Every day I watch a soccer match on youtube and all of a sudden that’s not possible anymore.” He agrees that it’s better to ban only certain films in stead of a whole site. Does he think videos on which Atatürk is insulted should be forbidden? Yes, Osman thinks so. Many Turkish people agree with him, but there’s also a big group of users who oppose every form of censorship. Alper Alkalin of 3H: “Banning sites is against what Atatürk stood for. He argued that Turkey had to focus on Europe. Then how can you ever limit freedoms?”

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