[Perspectives] Internet censorship: Fight with participatory democracy

perspectives_8_giris_buyuk_engAfter President Abdullah Gul approved law No. 5651, often referred to as the New Internet Law, reactions began to grow on a national and international scale. With the new law on the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), which was passed right after the New Internet Law, the state will now be able to monitor the economic and private activities of anyone it wishes. Thus, every citizen of the Turkish Republicwill become part of an Orwellian dystopia.

A social engineering and perception management campaign has been conducted by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) for years through the indirect control of the mainstream media outlets. This process was interrupted to a great extent during the last year. One of the most important reasons for this was that citizens of Turkey, whose majority population is made up of young people, increasingly began to use the new media tools in a more efficient and courageous manner. People had gradually come to feel trapped, restrained and pacified due to the “space restriction operation” they experienced as part of the imposed social engineering. In the case of Gezi Park, citizens who felt trapped by this social engineering project found a medium to express their reactions. Thanks to new social media, the world has heard this shout, leading to a disruption of the international perception management campaign. Therefore, the state felt the need to make radical new regulations. After these regulations are put into place, Turkey will never be the same!

perspectives_8_serdar_paktin_orta_fotoAfter the 2011 elections, many who did or did not like Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, many thought that the things he said in his balcony speech were promising, or at least they had given credit to what he said. The prime minister promised more democracy and freedom in that speech and insisted on putting the Safe Internet Regulation into effect despite a significant reaction from the public. At the time, he justified the regulation by stressing the need to prevent child pornography and to protect children and youth from the harmful content on the Internet. After public opinion showed reservation regarding this regulation with the #internetimedokunma (let my internet be) hashtag on the Internet and a march of over 40,000 people on İstiklal Street in Istanbul in Spring 2011, the regulation which was planned to take effect on August 22, 2011 was withdrawn for revision. The new version took effect on November 22, 2011 and an effort was made to publically discredit the people and groups who had objected to it.

The AKP government distorts the meaning of and discredits the concern, criticism, protest and opposition directed toward the restrictive regulations that it has introduced, and attempts to publically represent these people and groups as if they are against progress. Hence, an effort is made to justify the disproportionate force and police violence exerted against these people and groups.

Space restriction operation

Before moving on to a general review of the New Internet Law and the MIT Law which was passed directly afterward, let us remember these words that the prime minister said in his speech after the 2011 general elections:

“With the strength and the authority that we have received from our nation, democracy will attain more advanced standards, freedoms will progress significantly and people will be able to express themselves more easily. I sincerely wish all my 74 million brothers and sisters to feel at peace.”

Not only did the prime minister not do anything to stand by these words, but, with the disappearance of the threat of “the military domination”, he continued to carry out the social engineering in a much more obvious and inconsiderate way, which his party has been supporting slowly but surely since 2002. The reason that they have lost the support of liberal groups and the Fethullah Gulen community is due to the ways in which these attempts at social engineering have become more blatant.

Government officials, spokespersons and the prime minister in particular have made manipulative statements using imperious and authoritative language on all sorts of issues. This is done in order to impose their ideas on society, ideas which have no scientific basis whatsoever and which are framed entirely around their own ideology. Statements such as “Every abortion is a murder,” “Women must bear at least three children,” “Anyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic,” and “It is impertinent for pregnant women to walk on the street” have in effect exerted pressure on the public sphere and effectively restricts the freedoms of individuals. It should also be stated that there is a social group that considers the words of the prime minister commands, and these people try to enforce his words with the mentality of riot police.

I interpret this approach as indirect pressure or censorship which is used to regulate the public sphere as part of a process of social engineering. Apart from that, especially after 2011, the freedom of communication and expression was increasingly restricted via many laws and regulations including the Safe Internet Regulation. They were able to influence and – as the latest telephone records that were made public proved – manipulate the editorial policies of almost all the media organizations through kind but firm instructions. Journalists and researchers who could not be controlled were imprisoned with various allegations and trials on remand that lasted for years, and were thus were silenced. The ones who were not imprisoned were fired by the media bosses through a direct “request” from the prime minister.

The AKP government wants to block the development of any social objection, criticism and opposition, by means of the social engineering project and the “space restriction operation” that it conducts as part of that. A “religious generation” has already begun being raised like the prime minister wants. Scandals in the educational system are made public almost every day regarding curriculum changes, the rising number of religious vocational schools, the new “4+4+4” educational system, the “Preschool Education Religion Project” that has been established in order to Islamize preschool education and many other initiatives.

Orwell’s dystopia

When people have to rely on “traditional” media like television, radio or newspaper to get their information, it is necessary to develop a sort of a “mental decoder.” In order to carry out a critical analysis, it is important to examine which news items these media present, how they present them, the register or tone, and the length of time the items are presented and what the images contain. It is essential to know about the stance and approach of the news source in order to analyze the messages being sent through the media channels and to really understand what is what. Of course this does not mean that the content on the Internet is impartial and independent of this system. However, the situation on the Internet is not as restrictive.

Since the general elections in 2011, the structure of mass communication, reporting and political propaganda have completely changed in Turkey. There are several reasons for this: the ban on political advertisements has been lifted, different kinds of actors and shareholders have joined the political arena, and the society has started using new media tools much more effectively and in ways that allow them to set the agenda.

Regarding the Internet Law, experts, IT lawyers, journalists, academics, and even EU and US officials have declared their concerns that the law would lead to an absolute surveillance society. It is obvious that with this law, Turkey is following the restrictive approach of countries like Iran, China and Saudi Arabia.

The countries that do not adopt the restrictive approach are systems that have been shaped and established within the conditions of the modern industrial period. During the change from the agricultural society into the industrial society, economics, religion, social life, family structure, types of manufacturing, tools of communication and, of course, regimes have changed. The systems that were established within this frame can by nature only work on a representational level and are inherently cumbersome structures, so they resist change in order to perpetuate the system.

Furthermore, the concept of scientism that came with modernity replaced the concept of religion that was brought by the preceding period. On the basis of the faith that scientism and scientific information constitute the absolute and one and only truth, the production of information has taken the place of the previous absolutist structure. In other words, just like the Vatican and the clergymen were the representatives of God’s absolute knowledge, within modernity, academies have become the centers of absolute knowledge and scientists the representatives of this knowledge. Since the belief was that real knowledge was one and ultimate, it needed to be learned in certain centers through certain methods and in certain forms, and conveyed to others in this way.

Likewise, communication in the modern era took shape within this frame. Information was gathered in encyclopedias, and the absolute truth could be learned from the encyclopedias which were the scientific holy books. The newspaper, radio and then television were channels of communication that developed around this approach. In these platforms which we call the traditional communication channels, there is a one way communication: from the giver to the receiver of the message.

The giver of the message is the party that owns the sources of information and the means of information production. Since the information source is absolute and ultimate, the message it conveyed was considered correct and final, and it was not questioned. The receiver of the message is the party that perceives and –depending on their perceptive capability – interprets the message within the frame, content and context that the giver built it. The relationship between these two parties was always one way. There was no way of the receiver giving feedback to the giver. The means of feedback were scarce and again under the control of whoever owned the communication channels. Besides, the receivers of the message had learned the absolute correct knowledge that was filtered by the state ideology at the state-controlled educational institutions in the same way, so they were expected to perceive the message they received in the same way. Thus, it was an automated system of sorts.

After the Internet started being used by the masses, communication went on the same way it was throughout the period known as web 1.0. We, the message receivers, accessed the Internet as passive participants. Later on, communication tools started to advance and acquire a character that gave way to people’s own participation.

One of the first major shocks of the modern order came with Napster, a platform that made possible sharing music files between individuals. When millions of people started to share music on Napster, the control of the global music market was destroyed. The next stage was the web 2.0, where people could directly access sources of communication and knowledge; they went from being the message receivers to message givers and receivers at the same time. From this point forward, everything started to change very rapidly.

With the development of the web 2.0, the globalization and the metaphor of “the global village” that social scientists had foreseen started to materialize. Now, individuals got out of the passive role that the one-way communication imposed on them and became part of two-way communication. Consequently, this made people active participants of what was going on around the world.

These developments caused people to communicate, produce information and organize much faster and more effectively. Hence, the hegemony of the absolute correct knowledge and central communication channels that modernity has brought started to lose its validity. Nation-states, academia, newspapers, television and the existing economic order can continue their existence through this one-way communication because in this way they can sustain their ideologies.

On the other hand, people have obtained a tool through which they could participate in the decision making mechanisms. By means of this tool, they want to participate in decision stages that will affect their lives in their neighborhoods, cities and countries. For instance, the Gezi events that spread throughout Turkey started out because many individuals and organizations wanted to participate in the project designing process of Gezi Park even though all demands were persistently ignored and a shopping center was planned to replace the park.

When we look at the social and political mobilization in the last ten years, we can see that by means of the new communication tools, people can rapidly organize and mobilize, influence their country’s agenda, make their voices heard by the international community, and even change their country’s administration. There are two paths that can be followed in the face of this challenge: attempting to stop it or adopting these developments and embracing the change. The last Internet Law shows that Turkey has chosen the first path.

Again, when we look at the change in the last ten years, we can realize that many brands and companies quickly try to adapt to this change and make effort to transition to a participatory administrative structure. However, in Turkey, the AKP government and the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan perceive this participation as a “curse” and an activity of an enemy of the state. Consequently, they try to prevent the society’s activity on the Internet (and also other economic and private activities via MIT) by prying, censoring when appropriate, or putting people in prison, just like in George Orwell’s dystopia.

But there is something they don’t know: change has happened. Trying to stop that will be a move which will only speed up the end of the government. In conclusion, all regimes in the world have to find a way to transition from representative democracy to participatory democracy.


Serdar Paktin

Graduated from Military High School and quit Air Force Academy. He has B.A. in Cultural Studies. He worked as an editor for Arena Magazine. He did his M.A. in Liberal Studies at The New School for Social Research in New York. He did Strategic Planning for Marketing Communications. He worked as Strategic Director of Social Media Campaign for Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 2011 Turkish General Elections. He took part in GriZine.com and bugunbugece.com as Content Strategist. He worked as a Senior Campaigner at Change.org. Currently, he is teaching Online Reputation Management at Kadir Has University and is Content Strategy Consultant for Adam Mickiewicz Institute of Poland.

This article was published on 8th issue of Perspectives Magazine by Heinrich Böll Institute.

Conference Topic: new media vs. nation states

nation states

I began to work on a paper for The 3rd International Conference on Conflict, Terrorism and Society at Kadir Has University, where I teach Online Reputation Management.

I believe that the participatory means that the new media tools have provided for the people are creating more and more demand for participatory democracy. This is quite a problem for nation states since the system is based on representative democracy and limited participation in the decision making process of the governments.

So, that’s quite an interesting topic to think about. I will let you know when I have more to say on this topic. For the moment, I can share the proposal with you:

Development in Internet technologies has changed the structure of mass communications fundamentally. The change from Web 1.0 (one-way communication) to Web 2.0 (two-way communication) has given the people (i.e. citizens) a very substantial power of communication: the ability to give immediate and qualitative feedback. This is to say that, in traditional communication mediums, including Web 1.0, the people were in a passive position as a listener and not talker. The owners of mediums and information channels were in an active position as talker and not listener.

The traditional dynamics of communications gave the power holders a great deal of possibility to contain the participation of the people to a limited context, which has been positioned as a state apparatus. This includes elections, the ballot box, bureaucratic application and objection processes, etc. For instance, the official institution’s telephone numbers and mailing addresses respond through a selective perception. Moreover, there is not much possibility to take your application a step further, if you get rejected… Consequently, the traditional one-way communication system was one of the key parameters for states to continue holding their power.

Web 2.0, in other words, two-way communication gave the people a great deal of space for contribution and participation in the decision-making process for matters that directly interests the public. Also, the new communications enabled people to communicate, organize and assemble very quickly. Now, people can have an affect on the public agenda of a country—and even globally.

If we look at the significant public movements all around the world, we can clearly see that the motivation behind a significant percentage of them is “the public demand for participation to decision-making process.” We think of 2003 Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, 2009 Iran’s Green Revolution, The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street in USA, Gezi Park Movement in Turkey and finally the Kiev Protests again in Ukraine as most striking examples as physical manifestation of thereof demand for participation, which was already transmitted through new media.

Thus, I would like to make an in-depth analysis of the relationship between the developments in new communications and rise of the demand for participatory democracy globally. I see this as one of the key drivers that will effect the future of the state and world politics. I think that majority of states around the world will evolve into participatory democracies that will encourage their citizens to participate in (and crowdsource) decision-making process of the state.