Three days of national mourning have been called after blasts in Ankara, Turkey, killed at least 95 people. The two explosions disrupted a peace rally that had been organized in the country’s capital. No group has claimed responsibility for either of the two blasts. President Barack Obama has expressed his sympathy and condolences to the country.
The president conveyed his deepest personal sympathies for those killed and injured in these heinous attacks, and affirmed that the American people stand in solidarity with the people of Turkey in the fight against terrorism and shared security challenges in the region.
However, Turkey has now banned any and all coverage of the blast. In fact, they have even fully blocked both Twitter and Facebook, meaning Turkish residents are no longer able to share information through social networking. While a temporary ban, there have already been numerous outcries of censorship and of the government hiding the facts from the rest of the world.
The peace rally itself focused on bringing an end to the violence that has been taking place for some time between the government of Turkey and the PKK. The PKK is a militant group that aims to create a separate state for Kurdish people, a minority and severely prosecuted group in Turkey. The world is shocked at the fact that people who were rallying for peace have fallen victim to such extreme violence at the hands of two suicide bombers.
At the most up to date count, it was believed some 95 people had been killed and a further 300 had been injured by the two blasts. The blasts themselves were filmed by protesters who had smartphones with them. Immediately, the RTUK (Turkish Supreme Board of Radio and Television) released a statement that banned any and all broadcasts of the attack itself.
At least 95 have been killed and 300 injured by the blast, which had been filmed by those protesters recording it on their smartphones. Consequently, state media watchdog the Turkish Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) imposed a ban on broadcasting images of the attack.
The Turkish Prime Minister has imposed a temporary broadcast ban regarding the terror attack conducted in Ankara this morning.
The statement went on to say that the blackout had been imposed for the protection of the people. It was felt that if the images would be shown, a ‘feeling of panic’ could be created. However, the people of Ankara, wider Turkey and the rest of the world, do not agree with this sentiment.
It only took a few minutes for people in Ankara to become aware of the fact that they were unable to use the various social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter. At that point, it wasn’t clear whether this was due to communication towers being disrupted by the blast, or whether the government had already blocked access. Contacts in Turkey are now reporting that Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites cannot be accessed at all, and that email access is very limited.
It is not the first time the Turkish government has made such a move, as they had also blocked access to social media following a suicide bomb blast earlier in the summer. Around one year ago, YouTube and Twitter were blocked because people were using the platforms to spread audio recordings that implicated Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the then prime minister and his very close allies, in an alleged scandal of corruption. Soon thereafter, the country blocked internet usage when people shared images of a slain prosecutor. They have been able to do this by rapidly passing laws that allow them to cut off access to specific sites without the need for a court order, a move that has been heavily criticized around the world.
Turkey has passed several laws to strengthen control over the Internet since December 2013, after hundreds of tape recordings allegedly showing political corruption were posted on social media. The EU has has criticized Turkish government efforts to control Internet access as an attempt to curb freedom of speech.
Blocking social media usage is seen as censorship by the international communities. Perhaps more importantly, it takes away a method often used by people to contact their loved ones and let the rest of the world know what is happening to them and that they are safe. Social media is believed to have played a pivotal role in the Arab Spring of 2011, when people used it for a variety or reasons in relation to the revolutionary efforts.
The Arab Spring had many causes. One of these sources was social media and its power to put a human face on political oppression. Bouazizi’s self-immolation was one of several stories told and retold on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in ways that inspired dissidents to organize protests, criticize their governments, and spread ideas about democracy.
Social media, during the Arab Spring, was used to inform the world of what was really happening, as many media outlets were not allowed into the country. It allowed protesters to show the world that they were peaceful, but under attack. Another very important element of social media at this time was the fact that it allowed people to regroup and avoid arrest. Protesters would use hashtags for specific events, so that anybody was able to quickly find out where they would need to be in order to have the biggest impact on the movement, or in order to stay safe. Finally, social media allowed people to communicate with their loved ones, letting them know they were safe, free and alive.
The international community and most residents of Turkey believe that this opportunity is being taken away from them through the current censorship of social media and email. Criticism of the Turkish Government and their handling of online bans will continue. Meanwhile, however, it seems the government stands by its laws and believes it is acting in the best interests of its people by removing their opportunity to communicate with the outside world.