On August 22, the youth of Turkey will finally be safe from stumbling across pornography on the Internet, thanks to a new law introducing filters to limit sites available to internet users in Turkey. Of course, this is nothing new — many sites of a politically sensitive or indeed pornographic nature are already blocked. However, the new system proposed by the BTK (Information Technology and Computer Authority) will formalise the checks and include “child friendly” and “family” filters.
No one accepts the BTK’s claim that the filters will only serve to protect children, and its assurance that users of the “standard filter” will have free access to the internet. This is already not the case — noticeably more sites are unavailable here compared to Europe, including all pornographic sites, and most notoriously YouTube, banned from 2008 till last year. Huge protests have taken place in the last month, largely organised and attended by young Turks, the most technologically savvy of the demographic, belatedly waking up to political responsibility. Fittingly, most of these protests have been organised online, on Facebook or on secret sites with codename web domains passed on by word of mouth. One of these was 666b.org, denoting that the protest in question was to be held at 6pm on June 6, and mimicking the “555k” political protest organized at 5pm on May 5, 1960, prior to the military coup. People have been aware of internet restrictions for some time, but the proposed law has given them a jolt and generated a sustained protest movement which is noticeably more heartfelt than responses to other troubling domestic issues, largely because personal freedom is in question — everyone is affected.
There will be four filters, all to some extent preventing access to a blacklist of sites deemed potentially dangerous in some way. This blacklist is based on a ludicrous list of 138 words compiled by the Telecommunications Directorate, apparently in response to complaints from parents about sites unsuitable for their children. Hence, web addresses which contain everyday Turkish and English words such as “sıcak” or “hot” will be banned, taking out all the “hot single ladies” sites but also “hotwheels.com”, actually a toy car website designed for children. The once popular food site “sıcakyemekler.com.tr” (“hotmeals”) is in fact already impossible to find. Equally ludicrous and more unfair, the Directorate proscribes the word “escort”, blocking the websites of a fair few brands including Escort Computers, a Turkish brand. This is particularly amusing considering that the Turkish government is trying so hard to promote home-grown companies, especially in the technological sector. The new filters will deal a crippling blow to these companies’ advertising; it is clearly a system so flawed as to be almost farcical, and many expect that the law might never fully come into play. Of course, those defending the system claim that only the “child” and “family” filter users will be affected by this list, and that other users can opt for a standard “unfiltered” filter, but there is no clear explanation of exactly how this will work, and certainly no credible assurance that the restrictions already in place will be curtailed, and not extended.
But is it all bad news? The light at the end of this blinkered tunnel is surely language renewal. No one, not even the Turkish government, has the power to prevent new slang developing. “Hot” didn’t always have its connotation of sexual attractiveness, and the same goes for “fit” or “buff”, now so last-decade as to be almost cool again, in a retro way. Turkish equivalents are equally easy to find, and the best outcome of this law would be a galvanising effect on the young wordsmiths of the computer-using generation. Already, some of people currently protesting have taken to writing a selection of the blacklisted words over their bodies, using the proposed law for creative ends. If nothing else, the proposed law has made these people aware of their rights and has awakened them to the shortcomings of the government, which can only be a good thing.