In a speech on July 1, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he seeks to “shut down” all social media platforms and streaming services, following a legislative procedure in Parliament. This move came after his daughter received criticism on Twitter, and one of his YouTube streams earned a lot of negative comments and dislikes.

For now, the potential ban is only a party-political declaration. Still, with a Parliament bent to the will of the president, Erdoğan would face little political obstacles to enforce a ban. In a dictatorship such as China, a ban on Facebook has existed since 2009, after the platform took the correct decision of not releasing information about Xinjiang independence activists to Beijing. Turkey would make the definitive jump from an authoritarian state to a totalitarian one if it were to take a significant part of online communication out of the hands of citizens.

It is, of course, great to see that the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) is prominent in Turkey, particularly after the country had temporarily banned the use of Wikipedia, and given the permanent ban on online adult content. However, the use of a free and open internet shouldn’t come with asterisks, especially not in countries that still uphold the pretence of being free and open democracies. 

There is an apparent reason why autocrats seek to limit or shut down social media platforms: they both have an obsessive hatred for mockery online, and look for ways to silence opposing voices. In free countries, the open marketplace of ideas leads to exchange and debate — the fact that these debates can get heated is part of the democratic process. When all opposition is silenced, and only one voice is heard, then the most heinous acts can be committed, with implied consent from a population that was stripped of its opportunity to react.

by Bill Wirtz