The street protests in Istanbul has forcefully revived in the past few weeks, reminiscent of the Gezi protests in Summer 2013. On Sunday, protesters in Taksim Square was shouting in tandem: “Do not touch my Internet!”
The recent political crisis that began after a major graft probe in Turkey has now a new arena of contestation: Web activism. The ruling AKP government has increasingly been freaky about circulation of news about the corruption. Here is the first few sentences of a recent New York Times article on the issue:
Shortly after an audio recording in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to be heard talking about easing zoning laws for a construction tycoon in exchange for two villas for his family, SoundCloud, the file-sharing site where it was leaked last month, was suddenly unavailable to Internet users in Turkey.
Other recordings, also apparently from wiretaps connected with a corruption inquiry linked to Mr. Erdogan and those close to him, have shown up on YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter and other social media sites. Often, just as quickly as they appear, they disappear, only to show up soon after somewhere else on the Internet, like a game of Whac-a-Mole.
In the midst of a series of scandals (what could be called “Turkish Watergate”), the AKP has introduced a new law that exerts a critical government influence to control the web. As Turkey now is among the red list in the global press freedom rankings (154th after following Iraq), the social media is increasingly the only space left for free speech. After she was fired from a pro-government daily, Sabah, due to her criticisms against Erdogan, Nazli Ilicak said that her number of Twitter followers (622 K) are more than circulation of major newspapers in Turkey.
Thus, internet has become what Francesca Polletta calls “the free spaces” for collective action. As the critical local/municipality elections approach, Turkish activists post leaked documents/photos about corruption via anonymous Twitter and Facebook accounts. If the new law will be ratified by the Presidency, the government will be able to shut down critical websites in a few hours. Some social media accounts have already started to become their target of attack.
Ironically, Erdogan openly admits his own intervention to change media content, believing it is “necessary” to “teach” media owners.