Internet regulations and censorship should be a thing of the past. When information is so easy to obtain at any moment from anywhere in the world, it only seems reasonable to think that most cultures would find that to be an amazing feat. In countries with oppressive governments, this freedom of information has the potential to upset the political balance and empower the general population. Turkey is one of those countries. And the new regulations they’re unrolling are the first sheet of melting ice on a very slippery slope.
Censorship in Turkey
Turkey did have some restrictions in place prior to 2014, when president Erdoğan came into power. In 2016, the unchecked government ramped up their stance on political information reporting via the internet. A state of emergency was declared, giving the government the ability to lock down, restrict, or modify a number of amenities. Journalists and everyday people faced scrutiny, and sometimes jail time, for messages posted online that could be perceived as criticism of Erdoğan or Turkey’s military actions.
Since this increased surveillance, a cumulative total of nearly 100,000 Turkish citizens have been detained, arrested, or sentenced specifically for utilizing the internet to voice opinions or using mobile apps like ByLock that facilitate private conversations. The government has also urged internet service providers to block visible (non-stealth) VPNs and continues to block reporting outlets, news sites, and blogs that publish political opinions that Erdoğan does not personally agree with.
Wikipedia has been banned since 2017. Temporary blocks are often placed on popular social media networks, likely around the times where Turkey or its military actions are trending in major international news.
New Censorship Guidelines
Rather than individually reviewing everything that may be considered a reporting outlet, the Turkish government lead by Erdoğan aims to wipe the slate clean. Anyone who wishes to broadcast news, television, or radio must first apply for a special license. Only those who are approved will be allowed to publicly air or share information.
This bold move makes everyone who has not obtained a license a criminal. It also makes it easier for the government to keep tabs on what information is being spread and who is spreading that information. With a licensing system that provides a running tab, it’s easier for the government to arrest and sentence anyone who acts outside of their best interest.
The larger implication here is that all reporting outlets will thereby become less reputable. Since they’ll need to act in accordance with the government’s wishes to avoid repercussions, the news will inevitably become sanitized, censored, or altogether overlooked.
The Forecast for Turkey’s Future
The Turkish people (unreliably) have access to platforms like Facebook and YouTube most of the time. About a quarter of a million websites have already been blocked by the government. With all broadcasting networks now in the palm of Erdoğan’s hand, the Turkish people will need social media more than ever. Without it, they may never obtain access to an unbiased narrative.
If Turkey has already blocked access to a quarter of a million websites, there’s not much stopping them from taking the leap and blocking the alternative sources that people use when they abandon state-approved broadcasting outlets in search of the truth. Although no such action has currently been announced, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that eliminating access to the flow of all information from outside the country may be the next step. China has already done so, and Russia has announced plans to do the same. Turkey would not be unprecedented in the act of virtually boxing in their citizens.
What Can Turkish People Do?
The best option for Turkish people who want access to unbiased reporting is to begin utilizing a stealth VPN. Stealth VPNs like TorGuard are untraceable by internet service providers, meaning that they cannot be blocked. These VPNs give users complete anonymity by spoofing their location, keeping all traffic private, and circumventing content blocks. For all Turkish people who do not currently utilize a stealth VPN, now is the best time to start.