More than 349,000 websites banned in Turkey in last 5 years

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A total of 349,763 websites were banned in Turkey between 2016 and 2020, according to the 2020 annual report of the Freedom of Expression Association’s (İFÖD) EngelliWeb initiative.

According to a report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, citing İFÖD’s findings, the number of websites that have been banned since 2006 has reached 467,011, with 58,809 website bans in 2020, a slight decrease over 2019.

In addition to websites, access bans were issued for 150,000 URLs (or Internet addresses), 7,500 Twitter accounts, 50,000 tweets, 12,000 YouTube videos and 8,000 Facebook and 6,800 Instagram posts since 2006.

The report is titled “Fahrenheit 5651,” in reference to Fahrenheit 451, the famous dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury, and Law no. 5651 — aka the Internet Act — which authorizes various legal and administrative bodies to ban access to websites and request content removal under a variety of circumstances.

The Turkish government increased its pressure on social media platforms after the Gezi protests of May 2013, which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in İstanbul. Twitter emerged as alternative media and a networking tool among protestors, while the mainstream media hesitated to broadcast the popular protests at the time.

Since then, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has listed social media as one of the main threats to national security, and the Turkish government has expanded its Internet restrictions to curb the availability of critical news and opinion and penalized users who committed so-called anti-state crimes in the online public sphere.

According to the report a total of 5,645 Internet addresses containing news stories were banned, and content was removed from 4,620 of them in 2020.

Citing data released by the Interior Ministry, the report said a total of 75,292 social media accounts were investigated in 2020 and that legal action was taken against 32,000 of them, marking a significant increase over 2019.

Number of social media accounts that were investigated (on the left) and number of accounts that were the subject of legal action

In July 2020 the Turkish parliament passed legislation at Erdoğan’s request, imposing far-reaching restrictions on social media platforms with over 1 million daily visitors in Turkey.

The law, which concerns YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, went into effect at the beginning of October and sets forth progressive sanctions forcing social media platforms with more than 1 million connections a day to appoint a representative in Turkey with whom the Turkish authorities can resolve problems arising from cases of insult, intimidation and violation of privacy.

The bill was criticized by human rights defenders and critics including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the UN, who expressed their concerns over the government’s move.

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