Turkey Blocks Social Media To Curb Street Protests

Photo: Reuters

It is now a tradition: A bombing attack, media crackdown or mass arrest of dissenting voices is quickly followed by an assault on the social media. The goal is to curb streets protests.

This is especially true when the target is Kurds, who are good at quickly organizing impromptu street protests in much of the country. The biggest restriction of the Internet came following the detention of co-mayors of Diyarbakir, Turkey’s largest Kurdish city. Residents were unable to access the Internet for much of the day in provinces predominantly populated by Kurds in the southeastern Turkey.

Then came the full-fledged assault on the Kurdish media. At least 15 pro-Kurdish media outlets were shut down in a massive media crackdown. It was obvious that the government was preparing for something that it didn’t want to be covered by the Kurdish media. Several days later, authorities stormed houses of Kurdish lawmakers, rounding them up one by one in the cover of darkness. A dozen lawmakers, including leaders of the HDP, a pro-Kurdish party, were detained and later arrested pending trial.

There is no Kurdish media outlet left to cover, and protest, the latest wave of the crackdown. Most of the Turkish TV networks portrayed the crackdown as an “anti-terror operation,” including Hurriyet, a mainstream newspaper but now follows the official line. Pro-government social media trolls, especially those who speak several words in English, flooded Twitter and Facebook to control the narrative abroad.

Shortly after the late-night arrests of Kurdish lawmakers, who are representing more than 5 million people, Turkey blocked access to Twitter, Facebook, and Periscope. Unlike in previous restrictions, YouTube, Instagram, and WhatsApp were added to the list. The authorities made sure that no one can post on Twitter and Facebook, watch videos on YouTube, post photos on Instagram and communicate through WhatsApp to organize streets protests. Access to most of these mediums was restricted in much of Turkey.

This is not the first time Turkey is restricting access to the social media in the aftermath of development that may spark protests or tarnish the government’s reputation. Turkish users could experience throttling of social media and the slowdown of the Internet following a bombing attack or a large-scale crackdown.

The cycle of a crackdown is simple: First silence traditional media, then arrest individuals and throttle the Internet to curb street protests or online campaigning.