We held our panel on “Do tech-giants have a finger in censorship?”

What can be done and demanded for accurate news and dissemination against the censorship imposed by authoritarian states as well as social media companies was discussed

Last night, moderated by the Co-Director of MLSA and Lawyer Veysel Ok, we held our panel through Zoom and the MLSA Youtube channel, with participations of CHP High Disciplinary Board Member and Lawyer Gülşah Deniz Atalar and Media Freedom Rapid Response Coordinator within the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) Gürkan Özturan as speakers.

Atalar: “Representatives of social media companies cannot be reached even through legal means”

Beginning the speech by stating his opinion on social media companies becoming nationalized, lawyer Veysel Ok conveyed the first word to lawyer Gülşah Deniz Atalar to share her views on this issue. Atalar, who agrees with Ok’s opinion, said that she thinks these companies internalize their censorship mechanisms as they become state-like. Stating that the court decisions are being implemented more, especially after the 2020 changes in the legislation. Atalar touches on the fact that the websites and accounts, especially the ones in Kurdish are now being censored more often. She points that these censorship decisions are being taken although it is known to be against freedom of speech.

Mentioning that accounts can be banned through complaints made by many troll accounts, Atalar gives an example on Facebook by saying even facing such cases as fraud, child abuse etc. they are left unanswered by the social media companies, even through legal means: “With this law, we were promised there would be a new labor force created also to benefit from the taxes and it would respond to all demands. But right now, there is no such labor that answers the demands even through legal applications.”

Atalar finds the last published court decision to be negative, which is about the Constitutional Court not including any applications regarding the censorships in its agenda for a year and she reminded that the Constitutional Court found the decision under Article 9 to be a censorship mechanism. She also talked about the upcoming elections within a year in Turkey would result with freedom of press and expression, as well as the right to receive and broadcast news to be restricted, that there will be no way of legal remedy and all the applications regarding censorship would be considered as violations.

Özturan: “NGOs are playing a big part against censorship” 

Speaking after Atalar, journalist Özturan stated that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and global technology companies have very good relations, but although these companies use the activities of NGOs to their benefits by both spread their services and create an environment that can be used in the commercial field, it doesn’t always lead to positive results. He stated that when NGOs help to raise the voices of victims, only then it draws the social media companies’ attention and better solutions are received. Özturan thinks the NGOs, activists and people working in the field of freedom of the press should act together in a way that will target prohibitive and restrictive laws, and create environments that will raise awareness,voice and enable communication. He continues: “It is not wise to make social media companies hostile, instead we should take steps to change their approach towards their platforms and users, because these platforms still play a very important role for sharing content and communicating. However, they are not indispensable. Because if these companies continue to cooperate with the governments in this way, they will gradually begin to lose the confidence of their users. These platforms are valuable only as long as the communication takes place on them.”

Özturan thinks using social media channels in solidarity could be a solution against censorship. He said that a restricted or blocked journalist should definitely see support from other colleagues, but this is difficult to witness in Turkey. Having special interest in the practices in African countries, Özturan gave an example of the obstacles applied in the Uganda elections, which played an important role in the re-election of the government. He said there is no reason why the examples in such countries shouldn’t be experienced in Turkey either. He repeated that if the journalists, activists and NGOs come together within the framework of rights and freedoms, it would be a solution against the social media companies’ censorship actions.

 Google’s transparency report has been reviewed 

Lawyer Atalar started reviewing Google’s transparency report, stating that Turkey is in fourth place in terms of access blocking requests worldwide. According to the report, there were 6.2 million contents removed from the internet, estimating around two million of these contents were labeled as child abuse and the rest were contents removed from Youtube. However, she mentioned that users are facing the platform algorithm censorship instead of individual requests on Youtube. Atalar also pointed out that since 2011, according to the official records, Turkish courts have received a total of 15.152 requests to remove content from the internet.

Özturan started his speech by saying that he criticized the report and did not particularly like the way it was written. As the report openly stated that 94% of the decisions were done by the platform algorithm, he pointed out that he was more interested in the reasons for the decisions for the rest of the 6%. Also expressed his curiosity about the reasons for the access blockages by the court decisions, which Atalar mentioned. The only solid data they had about the reasons was 57% of the reasons were about insults, 19% about privacy of personal life, 10% about national threats and the rest was unknown. Özturan ended his speech by saying that some of the content coded as privacy of personal life or insults were used to censor the freedom of the press.

Lawyer Veysel Ok included some questions from the audience  and thanked our speakers for their participation before ending the panel.