Free Web Turkey report: Another year of increasing censorship and surveillance

Free Web Turkey report: Another year of increasing censorship and surveillance
The Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) has been running a project since 2020, under the name of Free Web Turkey, which emerged as a result of increasing pressure on freedom of expression and the internet, especially through censorship practices and blocking access to websites. Within the scope of the project, we aim to provide guidance to websites, media organizations, and all content producers facing censorship in digital media on how to deal with those censorship practices, offering them legal consultancy, and the necessary tools to protect them from those practices and to organize trainings and workshops that will facilitate and inform them. Free Web Turkey continues its work within the scope of the project carried out against the pressures on internet freedoms in 2021 with the support of the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Istanbul.
  • Access blocks affected at least 11050 URLs
  • 1593 of the blocked URLs were contained of news articles
  • 49 news websites were blocked within 2021

Read the full report here

The report was published as a result of the Free Web Turkey project, compiling the data between January - December 2021. In addition to a thematic review of the blocked content, the report evaluates the current situation in Turkey in light of the transparency reports provided by online platforms and refers to the social media regulations made at the beginning of 2022. According to the report’s findings, at least 11050 URLs, domain names,  and social media posts were blocked within this period. While 1593 of the blocked URLs contained news articles, a total of 49 news websites were banned during the monitoring period, some even more than once. The report also reveals the tendency of decision-makers to block access to news stories that are related to the government, as well as to news regarding the perpetrators of crimes against women and children. Among these banned news articles are about the appointment of an academician at Rize Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University as the head of the department, whom female students complained about harassing and insulting them in March 2021.

53% of blocked news articles are government-related news

The project’s findings bring to light that 53% of blocked news articles pertain to information directly related to Turkish President and AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family, and to mayors or officials of the AKP. In last year’s report, blocked news articles on this issue made up only 42%. In March, tweets about the former Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and the Central Bank's dollar reserve shared from CHP's official Twitter account were blocked and access to many different news stories about Berat Albayrak were also blocked. These include news stories that were blocked at the request of Albayrak's brother, Turkuvaz Media Group Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors, Serhat Albayrak.

Most of the blocking decisions are targeted at news URLs

The report identified 263 judgments on access blocks that affected at least 11050 URLs and revealed that among these court decisions, 49 led to the ban of news sites and 134 to the ban of news URLs. The report also underlined that 49 of the 93 decisions (not counting domain news) were directed at news URLs.  Under the topic of blocked opposition websites, the report also reports that 21 news websites were blocked that broadcast news in Kurdish. Among the news sites were the website of Mezopotamya Agency which was blocked five times and the website of the women’s news agency Jinnews which publishes in Kurdish, English, and Turkish was blocked 11 times.

Awareness against censorship and surveillance should be increased

In the report, it was stated that it would be beneficial to provide digital literacy trainings for journalists and citizens in order to protect the public’s right to receive information and ensure the flow of news. It brings forward the argument that increased awareness of censorship and surveillance in the digital area can reduce the effect of practices that restrict internet freedoms.

Social media platforms should bear the responsibility of being ‘media’

According to the report, the restrictions on internet freedom in Turkey need to be regulated in accordance with international principles. The report urges companies not to abandon policies that prioritize freedom of expression. The report recommends that social media platforms protect their own policies against censorship by bearing the responsibility of being “media” rather than “social media.”