Friday, August 7, 2009

Dear Turkish Courts

Dear Turkish Courts,

I know you guys don't seem to get this whole Internet thingy very well, but I think, after two years, it's time to lift the ban on You Tube. This ban has accomplished, well, nothing. Everyone, including Erdogan, knows how to get around it. Last I heard, even Erdogan is telling everyone to get around it. In fact, Turkey remains one of the top You Tube looky-loos in the world. The offending videos were removed ages ago (before I had a chance to see them, unfortunately, but from what I hear it was all very sophomoric), so there's no excuse except being bullheaded and stupid.

Oops, did I really just say that?

Yes, I did. And I'll also say that you people are making it awfully easy for the Greeks to take the piss and get one over on you. Greek teenagers at that, from the sound of it, with very limited movie-making skills and a rather tiresome sense of humor. You know, because most people eventually grow out of insulting other people by calling them gay. And most people grow out of being insulted when someone calls them gay. Not that anyone is oversensitive or anything.

Oops, did I just say that too? And put in those hyperlinks?

I did. And then I snickered because it's just so Turkey. Just like this is.

Also I started wondering if Ataturk would really have gotten his nose all out of joint and maybe even cried if he saw the You Tube videos that made you guys block it. Because I don't think he would have. I think he was a bigger man than that. Then I wondered if he would have believed stupid, immature video teases posed a danger to his people, but I decided he probably had bigger things on his mind.

And then I thought about other countries that ban or have banned You Tube, like China, Iran, and Pakistan. I got to wondering, does Turkey want to be in the EU club with all the cool-kid countries (which Turkey keeps sucking up to, not me), or in the scary club, with all the "We Are the Powerful Great Country Whose Citizens Have Complete Freedom Unless They Are Influenced By Decadent Western Ideas Or Killed By Our Security Forces" countries.

And then I got kind of nervous because the You Tube ban is actually a pretty innocuous thing compared to some other crap happening in Turkey, and I have a kid that needs me and I'd really rather not go to, ahem, Turkish Prison (and no, I've never seen Midnight Express) indefinitely and without formal charges for outright stating on my blog what these other non-innocuous things are. I was way braver before I reproduced. I feel like a schmuck for leaving these things alone-- they eat at me, seriously-- but in the end I justify it to myself by thinking it's not my battle to fight.

So back to You Tube. It's not my battle either, but it's a light-hearted little problem that affects me directly. Even I know how to get around the ban and that's saying something, because I'm a techno-loser. The thing is, though, is that free online proxy servers are really slow and full of annoying ads and other crap.

Here's my problem. While visiting the US, I made the mistake of finally letting my son in on the Big Secret that the computer contains really cool things to watch. Up until now, we'd mostly managed to convince LE that the computer is boring. But one afternoon it was too blazing hot outside to go to the park, and too late for the pool, and we were still 45 minutes away from the pre-prandial snacks and cocktail hour, and the poor boy was going stir crazy. Plus he'd recently killed the DVD player and was jonesing for some Wiggles.

So I showed him some Wiggles on You Tube, and the cat's out of the bag. He now knows the computer contains the Wiggles. Fortunately, he's kind of over them again, and is much more interested in robots. And monkeys. And cats. And this one clip with a robot fish. He also likes the video where a monkey sticks its finger into its butt and smells it, then falls over. And any video that shows a housepet coming to terms with a toy robot. I'll tell you what, he's going to be one sad little boy when we get back to Turkey and You Tube is slow, glitchy, and sometimes not even possible to access even with the proxy servers.

Clearly, you guys are not listening to the many voices that are telling you to lift this pointless, idiotic ban already. Reporters Without Borders. Sansure Sansur. A whole bunch of other people with much more intelligence and clout than I have.

But one thing I happen to know is that a lot of Turkish people really like looking at pictures of babies for some reason. These pictures turn up in my Facebook all the time from Turkish Facebook friends, followed by many comments about how cute and wonderful the babies are. In the past I've had to block emails from former students and other Turkish acquaintances because I got sick of all the pictures of babies clogging up my inbox. What makes it especially weird is that usually, the pictures are not even of the senders' babies. They're just random babies someone decided just had to be shared with everyone in their address book. I just don't get it.

But maybe you do. So I'm bringing out the big guns, and I hope you'll listen and understand what you're doing to us.

This is LE watching a video on You Tube. See how happy he is?

And this is what LE does when he can't watch You Tube.

That's right. It makes him cry.

So I'm here to tell you, figure out a way to get You Tube back. Not having You Tube makes babies cry.

Please don't make poor Baby LE cry.




ms.bri said...

Do they have iPhones in Turkey? We can download a lot of favorites in video or podcast form to the iPhone. It also gets youtube, of course. But sheesh. I feel your pain. We are also a fan of the robot fish.

Anonymous-1 said...

get a new dvd player

Vicky said...

so glad you blogged about this. There are much greater problems in Turkey, but this really gets on my nerves because it's so patronising. Poor senstive little Turkish people can't take a joke. C'mon Government, we are all grown-ups and the ban achieves nothing.


Looking forward to being back in the land of the freer for a week starting tomorrow.

Vicky, Bursa

Stranger said...

Vicky, patronizing is a good word for it. Not only does it imply Turks are too sensitive to take a joke, it implies they're too stupid to not view something they might find offensive. Have a nice trip home!

Bri, iPhones are hitting Turkey, but I'm not sure how Internet works with them there. Worth looking into... And I'm sick to death of the robot fish. Does Beck get scared when they show the fish without its scales?

Anonymous-1 said...

what does the ban on youtube have to do with the Turkish people? was it the Turkish people who banned it?

we can`t hold the American people responsible for their government`s genociding 1 million of Iraqis but when the Turkish government bans youtube, it`s all about the Turkish people.

Stranger said...

Anonymous 1-- The post is addressed to the Turkish COURTS, who apparently think the Turkish PEOPLE are too weak-minded to decide for themselves what they should and shouldn't watch. Please note the post's title. Since judges are appointed and not elected, Turkish PEOPLE are not responsible for the You Tube ban-- the Turkish COURTS are.

The Turkish government (as in AKP) has nothing to do with the ban.

I don't believe I said anything about Turkish people, except that many of them like looking at pictures of babies.

I'm not sure how you reached your conclusion. I'm also not sure why you think blaming America for something unrelated to You Tube is a good way to defend Turkey.

Anonymous-1 said...

"Poor senstive little Turkish people can't take a joke."

Stranger said...

"Not only does it imply Turks are too sensitive to take a joke, it implies they're too stupid to not view something they might find offensive."

Are you still sure that you said nothing about the Turkish people?

And I`m not blaming America to defend Turkey, but to point out your hypocrisy.

Stranger said...

Oh dear. Please read more carefully! You've totally misunderstood everything you've quoted.

Anonymous-1 said...

ah ok, I can`t understand even basic English. That must be the reason why I "misunderstood" everything.

Stranger said...

It's not about basic English. You seem to understand basic English just fine. It's about your failure to account for context.

Vicky herslf doesn't think, "Poor little Turkish people can't take a joke," and I don't think Turkish people are too stupid to avoid watching something offensive. Vicky and I are both saying that the Turkish courts are being patronizing towards their people by deciding for them what they can and can't watch. We're saying it's the Turkish courts who think Turkish people are too stupid to monitor their own behavior.

I hope you can understand it now, and lower your knee-jerk defenses.

Oh, and look up 'hypocrite' while you're at it. If I were a hypocrite, I would have started deleting your comments at "Get a new DVD player."

As for Turkish people being oversensitive about some things? Ahem. I'll leave that one alone.

Anonymous-1 said...

how does deleting my messages make you an hypocrite? Are you sure that you know the definition of the word "hypocrisy"?

And If I was an "oversensitive Turk" I would have suggested you to go to an American prison. I`m sure you would enjoy your time at Guantanamo or Abu Guraib. I haven`t watched the Valley of Wolves Iraq by the way, but of course we all know that pointing out the Turkish prisons by giving a reference to a racist and nazist American/christian movie does not make an American hypocrite.

Stranger said...

Deleting your comments would make me a hypocrite because this post is about how I don't like censorship in Turkey. Censoring you because you're annoying would be like censoring You Tube because it's offensive. See how that works?

Might I suggest you excercise your good judgement and intelligence and not read my blog if it pisses you off so much? I hear there's a whole lot of other stuff on this Internet thingy to look at...

Anonymous-1 said...

might I suggest you to go back to where you came from if living in Turkey pisses you off so much?

Stranger said...


Rebecca said...

Sigh indeed. Don't worry Stranger I understood perfectly, but I am a native speaker. I think Anonymous should look up the meaning of 'imply' in his/her dictionary.

There is now some rumour about Facebook being under threat. Something about the CHP wanting it banned because there is some stuff against them. I haven't read about it myself so not sure of my sources but a Turkish colleague told me. Hope it isn't true because although FB can be a waste of time it is a useful way of keeping in contact for ex-pats.

Why don't they just go ahead and ban the whole internet while they are at it?

Stranger said...

The sad thing is that if they want it banned, they can get it banned. This whole Internet-blocking thing will continue until they change/modernize/re-interpret the anti-Turkishness and libel laws to make sense with the Internet. Unlike China and Pakistan, I don't actually think they are banning sites to "protect" people, or to prevent them from getting "dangerous" information. I think it's because the law dictates that anti-Turkish/anti-Ataturk material is illegal, therefore it's within their legal scope to prevent it. It's still censorship, but the reasoning behind it is perhaps a little more innocuous, and is a failure of law that I hope someone gets around to fixing soon.

But if one guy (Adnan Oktar/Harun Yahya) can get the courts to block the ENTIRE Wordpress platform in Turkey because there are nasty things about him on there, then it seems to me anyone can get anything blocked in Turkey if they can prove it's libel. That's more stupid than scary, though it becomes scary when libel laws are used to censor material leaders find unpleasant, like Erdogan slapping that cartoonist with a huge fine for portaying him as a cat-- he didn't go to jail, but the cartoonist's dissenting voice was effectively shut down.

On the other hand, the law about denigrating Turkey and insulting Ataturk is kind of scary because it's so broad, a little weird, and to my mind, ill-defined. What, exactly, is Turkishness? And what sort of danger is there really in insulting Ataturk? Aren't most people grown-up enough to just deal with it? I think they probably are, which is why I think the law is weird. I don't think insulting Ataturk is tantmount to a threat on national security.

Innocuous or not, and stupid laws aside, it's still censorship, and it's still based on the assumption that people are stupid, unable to exercise their own good judgment, and perhaps so weak-minded that they will be influenced according to something they come across on the Internet, whether it's about deciding Adnan Oktar is a nutjob heretic or agreeing someone might be gay. And that's where it becomes scary because it's the government trying to dictate what people should and shouldn't think, and limiting the scope of any debate to ideas the courts feel are appropriate.

jackie said...

You can get an internet package with the IPhone here, but I'm not sure about accessing Youtube. If I'm not mistaken, the internet on IPhone uses your cell phone network, not the regular wireless connection - so you just might be able to access it from there.

Good for you for standing up to Anonymous, Stranger. I love (that's sarcasm) the "why don't you go back to your own country" nonsense that they reduce themselves to when they're desperately trying to win a losing argument. I agree the Youtube ban sucks, but what's even worse is the random sites you go to that are inexplicably blocked -- for example, I tried accessing a blog website for expats & it was blocked. I think that's an ominous sign if you ask me ....

Stranger said...

In the US, I found a list of websites that are banned in Turkey. It's actually close to 1,000. Most of the ones I looked at were porn and gambling, and quite a few must have been ordered blocked by our friend Harun Yahya. But I didn't look at all of them, and now I can't find the link.

This is interesting, and gives a breakdown of the types of sites banned:

One banned site I looked at was just some gay guy (not Turkish) who posted pictures of men (not naked or Turkish) that he thought were handsome. Pretty innocuous. So I think some banned sites are also kind of random, as you've also found.

As for Anonymous-1 disappeared after his show stopping "Ya sev ya terk et." I imagine him (why do I assume he's male?) sitting smugly somewhere thinking he's won lost of Internet fights with that one...

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Stranger, Kamilpasha is hardly the place to get your information on this (yeah I hang out there too, but never mind that).

Gov't interference with the 'net is a very general issue and not limited to Turkey. By that I don't mean to imply that our parliament (not courts really) didn't bungle their attempt, but that where things are headed should be chilling. I sometimes think it is a good thing for such interference to be this obvious and bothersome. They also interfere with the regular press in many ways, but, by and large, the people remain oblivious to it.

There's a downloadable book available in Turkish and English on this subject here. There are probably better places to look for this now, but I posted a summary of what I could see here to give some perspective at the time WP was blocked.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Oh, and, BTW, I don't think deleting comments in your own blog would make you a hypocrite. You are not complaining about youtube itself deleting content, you are complaining about the government here interfering with the traffic between you and youtube. You are under no obligation to let everyone get on your soapbox in your own porch just because you generally don't mind some people doing that.

Stranger said...

What's wrong with Kamilpasha? I'm not sure, but I think she wrote one of the few articles clarifying that it wasn't an AKP/Islamist conspiracy to ban YouTube. But maybe she just posted someone else's article. I read too much to remember where it all came from.

One thing that's weird is I'm pretty sure I remember when I clicked the link in that article in the US, it led to a list of links to banned sites in Turkey.

Another thing that's weird is I hung out with an old colleague from Fatih University today who said she'd been watching YouTube at school all afternoon with no proxy server. She thought it had been restored. But that implies some sort of conspiracy. Or maybe YouTube went on and off again like last time.

I agree with you that it's a little bit good for something as obvious as this particular ban to be going on, as in, maybe some positive changes will result. I found it interesting that there was hardly a mention in the press here about Wordpress, or Geocities, or the 1,000 or so other sites that have been blocked. They talk about YouTube now that it's been what, almost 2 years? But they never talked about it when it happened.

And what did the press jump all over? A couple of weeks ago freaking Farmville on Facebook got banned for a day or so. Briefly, everyone was up in arms though I didn't hear the word censorship being bandied around much. But that vocal minority that's getting really pissed off about all of this must be a very tiny minority-- everyone else just seems to be acting like it's another silly thing that happens, like when you try to break a 20 and no one has change, or when there's a traffic jam for no apparent reason.

As for my hypocrisy, I tend to delete useless comments like "Get a new DVD player" or "Get an air conditioner." I've also deleted a few rather explicit comments on my post about the Black Sea from someone who keeps telling me what they'd like to do to certain enormous parts of Black Sea men. But I felt it would be hypocritical to delete someone who was criticizing or challenging me. Anyway, any foreigner who's lived in Turkey has probably heard those exact same words and arguments 100 times. Anonymous-1 just started to look like a bit of local color.

Nice to hear from you again, Bülent!

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...


What's wrong with Kamilpasha?

Kamilpasha can occasionally get surprisingly inaccurate for general news, but that's not what I meant for this case. It is just that she can only relay what the mainstream press prints for the 'net, wich tends to be trash. In this case she linked to Zaman which had a verifiable falsehood in their story (see my comment there).

I'm not sure, but I think she wrote one of the few articles clarifying that it wasn't an AKP/Islamist conspiracy to ban YouTube.

It isn't an Islamist conspiracy, but the AKP-led parliament did pass the recent law. On the other hand the opposition (just CHP was in the parliament back then) didn't really oppose it. Something like this law would have happened even w/o the AKP but probably the details like the porn ban would have been different. You can tell this by the PM's actions and the opposition's non-opposition. It is fine for an ordinary citizen to tell people that they too can circumvent the block, but you'd expect someone who controls a majority in the parliament to do more if he truly doesn't wish the block to exist.

I don't believe the Ataturk law thing really has much to do with the continued youtube ban, because the minister in charge himself effectively declared that youtube will remain blocked until they play ball. By that we understand he means coming here, doing as they are told, disclosing people's IP addresses when asked and paying taxes.

One thing that's weird is I'm pretty sure I remember when I clicked the link in that article in the US, it led to a list of links to banned sites in Turkey.

I have seen no such list. I doubt an accurate one exists. The censorship office doesn't publish one. People do make their own lists and take notes when they notice a site is blocked, perhaps you saw something like that?

I agree with you that it's a little bit good for something as obvious as this particular ban to be going on, as in, maybe some positive changes will result.

Well I know more now than I knew then. It doesn't look like there will be principled and effective opposition to interference with the 'net. I base this on what ordinary people I talk to tell me. I don't need to tell you this, but let me just state the obvious: this country is not like the US when it comes to those kinds of freedoms and principles. This kind of interference is the norm here and is expected. As long as youtube and other popular sites work, the powers that be can monitor all the traffic and block or force licensing requirements on anyone they wish w/o a sizable crowd complaining. We know this, of course, because the Internet law got passed w/o the supposedly 'liberal' papers making any noise about it.

The net may be democratizing but the demos doesn't seem to care and didn't really ask for it. Especially for places like Turkey the Internet's very existence has been a free ride. Even for the regular 'consumers' in the US, it may have been an accident. Communication infrastructure modern societies tend to produce and governments/regulators allow looks more like the cellular network. You pay by the byte/minute or through whetever confusing scheme a bunch of smart and highly trained con artists inflict on you, all ends are regulated, users' identities are checked and transmitted, broadcast capability is limited and expensive, traffic can easily be eavesdropped on by design etc.

But that vocal minority that's getting really pissed off about all of this must be a very tiny minority-- everyone else just seems to be acting like it's another silly thing that happens, like when you try to break a 20 and no one has change, or when there's a traffic jam for no apparent reason.

Yes. I agree as I implied above. I think the vocal people for Farmville had virtual tomatoes and farm animals that needed to be virtually cared for and they were scared that they'd die or something.

Stranger said...

I've just done a bunch of background reading about 5651, now I'll get into the PDF you linked to. Thanks for all this, Bülent. I had some huge information gaps.

Except now I feel worse because this is all a lot less innocuous than I'd thought, and a much deeper quagmire than I imagined. It's not going to go away anytime soon, I don't think.

One thing that was especially worrisome is that citizen complaint/reporting component. Some English-speaking tattletale could have a heyday with blogs and forums. I find it amusing though, to imagine the person skulking around the Internet looking for porn to report. I wonder if the citizen complaint form could somehow be abused to get government sites shut down? I mean, is there someone to actually check what the complaints or about, or do they just ban things because someone got upset?

Here is the list of banned sites I was talking about:

I'm not sure how frequently it's updated.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Oh they check what's submitted in that form. AFAIR the same law had provisions for the agency to get 90 new staff so it isn't like they'll be short-handed. Besides, they can only order things like porn blocked by themselves, for the rest a court order is needed. BTW, 5651 by itself in only part of the story, the insult laws etc. would work w/o it (they do for the press, even including things like prior restraint when someone bothers people like Gulen. Think midnight raids to printing presses and pages removed from magazines).

As for gov't sites getting blocked, someone tried getting that complaint site itself blocked on the grounds that having Ataturk's name mentioned on a site like that alongside porn and gamblig was an insult to his memory. I don't know if whoever read it was amused.

Of course it is not going away anytime soon. I think the 'net itself may evolve or will be 'fixed' to look more like the phone network or cable TV before the prevalent mentality here really changes. If you looked at 5651, you'll note it also mandates what amounts to licensure for hosting providers, logging and data retention requirements, and forces identity disclosure from people who create content. The latter part isn't enforced yet. The mere fact that that kind of a law could easily/quietly get passed in a political climate where freedoms and gov't interferece is talked about almost every day in newspaper columns should tell us something not just about politicians but also about the visible intellectuals here. I know what it tells me but you can get sued for calling people names here so I can't write any of it down. (I wonder if I can provoke someone to tell me to love it or leave it?)

Stranger said...

Yeah, I just finished reading the bit about enforcement of citizen complaints. It's incredible to me that the government and courts are capable of such swift, surgical action while being so completely inept, clumsy, and slow-acting in other arenas.

I don't quite get the licensing thing. It seems they're talking about requiring this of people outside of Turkey as well? How is that possible?

And perhaps I should be gearing up for Adnan Hoca to sue me for calling him a nutjob? An understatement, according to this:

It's not that hard to get someone to tell you to love it or leave it. Just write in plain language and wait for some oversensitive soul to misunderstand everything.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

It's incredible to me that the government and courts are capable of such swift, surgical action while being so completely inept, clumsy, and slow-acting in other arenas.

Recognizing that the powers that be here can be incredibly dumb and fiendishly smart or amazingly inept and horrifyingly efficient all at the same time is just one step in understanding just how little one can understand this place. I can say this for myself and I am from here.

I don't quite get the licensing thing. It seems they're talking about requiring this of people outside of Turkey as well? How is that possible?

If you don't have a reachable registered or whatever address here, they'll block you and you can open an office here to complain. I am not kidding, this is what they seem to mean. I can probably dig up the newspiece where the minister in charge almost said as much about youtube. (Same goes for porn sites and such, they can be blocked w/o a court order and if they dislike it they can come here and sue.)

Please don't take my word for any of his though, I've been away from the 'net business a longish time and stopped paying attention to the censorship aspect a few years ago. I have skimmed the PDF I linked to and it does look like good work, so that'd be a good reference.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Hmm, I was feeling kind of bad about not finding the appropriate link reflecting the minister's attitude to back up what I said about him above. He is helping with that. He said stuff much in the same vain again. Here.

The interesting thing is that while I believe it is now obvious to you that the coverage in the press (domestic and foreign) and other sources has been at best vacuous and more likely outright misleading, you had no way of detecting or suspecting this. (And no, being a foreigner isn't really a factor.) Afterall what's visible ("youtube doesn't work") and what's obvious (hang-ups about Ataturk and such) have been -- perhaps unwittingly -- spun into a thread of thought that appears coherent.

I think this might be true in general. The regular press along with other opinion-forming agents (increasingly the 'net) creates a false sense of comprehension in people. We cannot seek the information that we think we already have.

Stranger said...

This kind of false comprehension certainly works in favor of those who want to limit civil rights-- if the argument is, "YouTube got closed because they insulted Atatürk," then the only correct answer is, "It's wrong to insult Atatürk. You Tube deserves to be punished." Supporting free speech then becomes tantamount to wanting to insult Atatürk. Or look at lots of porn and child pornography.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

There's more from both the minister and the bureaucrat involved: here. Note the skilful use of the Ataturk sensitivity by those who don't really seem to have it otherwise. Also obvious is the lust for control.