A strong civil society, rule of law, and individual liberties form the bedrock on which democratic societies grow. In today’s world, freedom on the net has emerged as an important liberty which steadily contributes to the well-being of democratic societies.
Despite the increasing awareness over the importance of online freedoms, there has been a growing pressure on the net. According to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2022 Report in at least 53 countries, internet users faced legal repercussions for expressing themselves online, often leading to prison terms. Turkey has been among the countries which hold a bad record of Internet freedom.
Freedom House report reveals that Turkey is not free about online freedoms with a score of 32/100 and states the following:
It is known that the enactment of a “disinformation” bill in Turkey could further strengthen the government’s control over the online space. The AKP government with the constitutional changes adopted in 2017 put all the concentrated power in the hands of the president. In such an environment, the passing of the so-called disinformation bill is expected to assist the ruling elites in silencing the opposition and critical media voices. In May 2022, the so–called disinformation bill was enacted. This law has received many criticisms, and it was drafted without consulting stakeholders.
Freedom House report’s another important finding about Turkey is related to the pro-government troll networks. Freedom House states the pro-government troll networks orchestrated smear campaigns against activists, and journalists. Researches have revealed that AKP has an “army of trolls” numbering around 6.000 people to manipulate online discussions and combat government critics on social media platforms. The trolls attack opposition media, human rights groups, and government critics.
The Free Web Turkey Project that was established under the roof of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) has been making detailed researches in the field of internet freedoms since 2020. According to the Free Web Turkey 2021 Annual Report, a total of 11050 URLs, domains or social media contents were blocked between January 1 and December 31, 2021 and examined access blocks were classified under the following different headings such as “adult betting, fraud, financial websites, terrorism” ,“news regarding the government or the Erdoğan family”, “harassment” “Sedat Peker” , “child abuse” and “anti-LGBTI+ discourses”.
According to Free Web Turkey Report, access blocks to news also affect the journalists causing them to encounter situations such as investigations, and arrests. In April, access to the news about the lawsuit in which Journalist P. Ü. was prosecuted based on the complaints of Berat Albayrak, Serhat Albayrak and Çalık Holding for the news she wrote about “Paradise Papers” was blocked. The news and tweets about the blocked news were again blocked by the Istanbul Anatolian 3rd Criminal Judgeship of Peace and they were decided to be deleted.
Apart from the court decisions that put restrictions on the access to several online contents, the internet users in Turkey faced several blockages on Twitter after the massive earthquakes of February 6 2023. However, Twitter helped people living in the cities impacted by the earthquake immensely. People started sharing information from the earthquake zones over Twitter.
Freedom on the Internet is quite a critical issue while discussing threats against human rights in cyberspace. A significant aspect of internet censorship is directly related with freedom of expression and freedom to reach information. Online censorships are vital for freedom of expression and freedom of reaching information. Based on the data concerning online censorship in Turkey, it can be argued that online freedoms have been targeted heavily by the government. According to 2019 Engelli Web Report, the ranking of Turkey in the Twitter Transparency Reports is strikingly worrying as the total number of removal and withholding requests for accounts and tweets is much higher in Turkey than in Russia and Japan.
To make a long story short, it can be said that in current years, internet freedom has faced a sharp decline in Turkey. Thousands of online users faced criminal charges. Self-censorship, censorship and blocking of social media content or oppositional media publications have caused the emergence of a less diverse cyberspace in the country which also erodes democracy.
Akdeniz Y. O. Güven, Engelli Web 2019 Report, https://ifade.org.tr/reports/EngelliWeb_2019_Eng.pdf
Freedom House, Freedom on the Net 2022 Report, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2022/countering-authoritarian-overhaul-internet
Free Web Turkey, 2021 Report, https://www.freewebturkey.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/freeweb2021-ingilizce-son_compressed.pdf