Methods to bypass Internet restrictions in Turkey likely to increase, experts say

The usage of alternative methods to bypass Internet censorship will continue to rise in Turkey, media experts say, especially if access to widely-used websites such as Facebook and YouTube are blocked.
A controversial bill was signed into law last month that enables the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) to block access to a website in just four hours if it is determined to violate privacy guidelines.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defended the bill as an initiative to ensure Internet privacy, while its detractors argue that that the prime minister is attempting to crack down on Internet access in light of recent corruption allegations.

Many of these allegations have arisen via leaked recordings shared on YouTube by anonymous users Başçalan and Haramzadeler. One of the recordings uploaded allegedly features Erdoğan and his son Bilal discussing where to hide hundreds of millions of euros in cash on Dec. 17, after the corruption probe went public.

Erdoğan announced on Thursday evening that he intends to block access to the popular websites Facebook and YouTube following the Mar. 30 local elections. While the prime minister’s comments caused quite a stir, this would not be the first banning of YouTube in Turkey.

The popular video-sharing website was blocked beginning in 2008 for over two years, a period in which Turkish Internet users turned to other methods to access the site, such as proxy servers and Tor, a software program that heavily conceals one’s digital identity by directing it through a densely layered, anonymous, volunteer-run network.

As of Thursday, many proxy sites and the Tor website itself have been blocked in Turkey, among numerous others, including the personal website of prominent journalist Mehmet Baransu and the popular music streaming site Grooveshark.

However, media experts speculate that the usage of bypassing techniques will continue to rise, especially if Erdoğan follows through with his latest plan.

Another method is being pursued by the Pirate Party of Turkey, the local branch of a loosely-affiliated global network of political parties that advocate freedom of information and oppose Internet censorship. The Pirate Party is working on developing the “Meshnet” in Turkey. Meshnet refers to a series of projects worldwide that seek to create decentralized networks outside the realm of Internet service providers, which are subject to government regulation.

“[Methods of bypassing censorship] will definitely continue to rise, especially if Facebook or Twitter are banned. There are 32 million Facebook users in Turkey, and 80-90 percent of them are active every day,” said Deniz Ergürel, a technology journalist and secretary general of the Turkish Media Association.

According to Ergürel, Turkish Internet users are very familiar with alternative access methods, which were used extensively during the period when YouTube was banned. The website was among the top 10 most accessed sites in Turkey in spite of the block, indicating that Turkish Internet users are savvy at skirting regulations.

“The Internet provides an alternative life for many people, so they will try alternate ways to access it,” said İsmail H. Polat, a lecturer at Kadir Has University’s Department of New Media in İstanbul.

Polat, who believes that simply blocking access to a site is a nearsighted and futile measure, pointed to the Streisand effect, a phenomenon named after the famous American singer and actor Barbara Streisand, whose efforts to stop the media’s circulation of photos of her home in Malibu, Calif. generated increased publicity.

“The government must increase new media literacy education. Prohibiting [access to a site] is not a way to make people stay away from illegal content. The way [to do this] is to strengthen media ethics, which are provided by increased media literacy,” Polat stresse


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
This entry was posted in Turkey. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s