Turkish court defends free expression by lifting YouTube ban
Just one day after a ban on Twitter was lifted, a Turkish court has ruled that blocking access to YouTube violates human rights and that the service will be allowed back into the country. The court will allow the Turkish government to block access to 15 individual videos, however.
The bans were first ordered by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after videos and documents alleging government corruption were posted to Twitter and YouTube ahead of the country's elections. They seem to have served their purpose: Erdogan's political party won the elections with around 45 percent of the vote, despite the controversies surrounding the bans.
Erdogan said today that the government will comply with the court's order to remove the ban even though he doesn't "find it right and patriotic that the Constitutional Court has adopted such a decision" and believes that the court is "protecting an American company [while] our national and moral values are being disregarded." His attempts to ban the services probably aren't over: he has vowed to "wipe out" the services and has decried their presence in Turkey.
Turkish citizens will be allowed to access Twitter and YouTube, at least for now, while the country's courts continue to defend their right to free speech. The only question is how long that privilege will persist, as the Economist reports that the electoral win might have given Erdogan the political capital needed to run during the presidential elections later this year.
Reactions from around the Web
The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes the outcry surrounding the Twitter ban and has gotten its wish regarding the suspension of the YouTube ban:
The ban on Twitter drew widespread criticism both within and outside of Turkey. President Abdullah Gul, who hails from the same party as Erdogan, spoke out against it. The White House issued a statement opposing the restriction, and Twitter itself condemned the choice, posting alternative options for tweeting to their @policy account.
While we are happy to see that the court ruling has been respected and the blocking reversed, the ban on YouTube—as well as hundreds of other sites—remains in effect. We stand with our allies in Turkey in calling for a free and open Internet in Turkey and everywhere. Slate notes that lifting the bans shortly after the election was pretty convenient for Erdogan:
The change of heart came a day after the country’s constitutional court ruled the country-wide blackout violated individuals’ freedom of expression. The timing of the change of policy is pretty convenient for the government and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The social networking site was shut down on March 21, in the run-up to important local elections in the country, after a series of leaked wiretapped phone conversations implicated the Prime Minister and his inner circle in number of sweeping corruption scandals. Turkey's Prime Minister vowed to "eradicate" Twitter, but two weeks may have been enough to do the trick.Pando weighs in
I wrote about Erdogan's belief that YouTube influenced Twitter:
The Twitter ban, which was criticized by Turkish President Abdullah Gul and largely ignored by Turkish citizens, was overturned by a court in Turkey’s capital on Wednesday. Yet Erdogan “continued to assail Twitter, saying the ban will remain in place unless the service complies with local Turkish court rulings to remove some content,” the New York Times said Thursday.
Erdogan drew connections between Twitter and YouTube in his condemnation of the ruling, saying that YouTube and its lawyers were behind Twitter’s decision to ignore Turkish requests to remove some information from its service. (Twitter says that it actually complied with the request by deleting two accounts and preventing a third from being viewed within Turkey.) Now it seems that Erdogan has focused his attentions on banning YouTube, which he believes is the force behind this conspiratorial curtain, despite no evidence to support these claims. I wrote about how Turkey's ban on social media isn't the only way to twist the services for political gain:
It seems that blocking access to a social network isn’t the only way to manipulate the crowds. The Associated Press today reports that the United States Agency for International Development was behind a Twitter clone meant to stoke political unrest in Cuba. The service masqueraded as an independent social network where Cubans could discuss television shows and sports and other mundanities, but it was actually a tool meant to be used for revolution. As the US’ funding of its revolutionary groups shows, this isn’t the first time that USAID has backed tools meant to encourage democracy or other liberties abroad while serving its own goals.)
The contrast raises an interesting question: is it more effective for countries to control citizens by blocking access to social platforms, or by subtly manipulating them with their own tools? [Image via jm3, Flickr]