Riding the rollercoster of Turkey’s Youtube bans

I am currently in istanbul, Turkey and as of today YouTube is still blocked. A court complaint of a single video clip (out of presumably millions of video files) results with the blocking of the whole www.youtube.com domain in Turkey until YouTube removes the video subject to the court complaint. As there is no transparency with regards to court decisions in Turkey (they are not published nor publicly made available), only the lawyers involved with the case knows the true facts of the dispute. The DNS based blocking is easy to circumvent and a considerable number of websites provide the necessary instructions to access YouTube and other blocked sites from Turkey.

Riding the rollercoster of Turkey’s Youtube bans – Turkish Daily News May 09, 2008 Friday, May 9, 2008


YouTube is banned again. That’s right, no more watching Charlie Bit Me on a continuous loop or watching Filipino prisoners shake it to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. These are both samples of the comedic videos that most people are watching on the popular Web site. In 2007, the most popular videos on YouTube included Steve Jobs’ eloquent 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech, a comedic video about the evolution of dance, and a hilarious clip of a baby laughing. Of course, these charming and interesting videos are not the reasons that the Turkish courts have banned access to YouTube yet again, but it certainly limits the amount of time I personally waste on the Internet on a given day.

According to an article on the UK Times Online, the current ban was put into place due to Greek and Turkish YouTube users trading insulting videos online. I haven’t searched out or watched any of these videos on YouTube or any other portal so I can’t comment on their content. However, it’s most likely that the quality and production value of such videos was extremely low and that they were crudely made. I’m imagining 16-year-old boys sitting in a basement apartment with low-quality editing equipment, a pirated version of Photoshop, and the desire to make as many people angry as possible; an online amateur night designed to stir things up. After all, it seems that there is a fairly simple equation of images and words that can be combined to incite the ban of a Web site from within Turkey.

YouTube in particular has been banned so many times in the past year or two that most people have just stopped caring. Oh, YouTube is banned again? Ho hum. No videos of bears falling out of trees or of cats running around with bags on their heads for me! The YouTube ban is an annoyance but everyone seems to know it will go away, sooner or later. We’re bothered by it, but stuck rolling our eyes when the white and red screen pops up to inform us that the site has been blocked. The ban makes news wires around the world, but surprisingly, within Turkey we remain mum on the topic.

It’s only when the ban affects us personally do we become angry and feel that our rights have somehow become infringed upon. The first time I was startled that a Web site was banned was when I was browsing CNN.com one day and wanted to follow a link to the American elections that led to the CNN Political Ticker blog. This blog, which was focusing primarily on the American Democratic candidates and their campaigning, was banned. I was shocked to find that I would not be able to find out what Hillary was doing on TV or Barack’s thoughts on the person who paid thousands of dollars for his half-eaten pancake on eBay. Shocked! The information I was seeking seemed extraordinarily benign, yet I was unable to access it. Similarly, following a link to someone else’s blog hosted by WordPress.com brought up the blocked page. Not only for one site, but every site associated with the WordPress.com domain. One person’s blog had been deemed offensive enough to ban access to the more than one million blogs hosted by the site.

These bans have since been resolved and access restored, but it seems like a game at this point. It’s like a crapshoot to seek out and find which sites are currently banned by the Turkish courts. One of the other unexpected bans was on Slide.com-related applications on Facebook, such as user-created slideshows and the well-known SuperPoke application. With Turkey having one of the fastest growing networks on Facebook, with almost three million users according to their Web site, it was surprising to see such a ban in place. I suppose some users were creating offensive slideshows and posting them to incense whoever would watch. For most users in Turkey, it meant no longer superpoking friends and doing things such as throwing sheep at them or baking a cake for them to celebrate birthdays online. According to a Reuters article, San Francisco-based Slide.com had to hire representation within Turkey to help Turkish users regain access to their applications.

Of course, it’s not like the YouTube ban affects day-to-day life for most people in Turkey. Generally, people view the site sporadically and only when someone sends a link worth watching. The problem is that if someone sends a link that seems interesting, people want to be able to view it without restricted access, whether it’s funny cats or laughing babies or whatever shows up in an inbox on a given day. While I think material that is created for the sole purpose of inciting hate between countries or cultures should be removed, I don’t like bans. Like most people, I want to be able to judge for myself whether a site is worth viewing or not, whether it’s a political blog, YouTube or someone’s personal blog. Unfortunately, that’s not an option today, so we’ll all have to catch up with our YouTube videos some other time.

See Further:
TDN, YouTube expects restored access in Turkey, 28 March, 2008.
TDN, Web site blocked over insults to Atatürk, 27 March, 2008.
TDN, Access to YouTube resumes, 26 January, 2008.
TDN, Court orders YouTube blocked, 20 September, 2007.
TDN, Turkey adopts law to block ‘insulting’ websites, 07 may, 2007.
TDN, Turkey revokes YouTube ban, 10 March, 2007.