Sex, Flags, and Ocalan: Facebook Embraces Turkish Censorship
by Nanore Barsoumian on March 1, 2012
A recently leaked document reveals that in addition to censoring sexually explicit, violent, and hate-inciting materials, the social networking site Facebook has special rules for content deemed unacceptable to the Turkish state. Gawker.com recently posted the document leaked by a former employee of oDesk, the firm contracted to police the content shared by Facebook users.
The 17-page manual outlines especially strict policies when it comes to Turkey, its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Kurds, and imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. No other country enjoys such censorship privileges.
The leaked document caused outrage among users of social networking sites. “EU slams Turkey for freedom of expression violations while #Facebook helps Turkey ban Kurdish content. What say you, EU?” asked one Twitter user.
Once a specific post is reported by a Facebook user, moderators are instructed to “confirm,” “unconfirm,” “escalate,” or “ignore” materials that might be considered offensive. The manual defines “confirmed” as “a decision which implies that there is a violation on a piece of content, as reported by the user.” Once confirmed, the material is deleted. If the post does not constitute a violation, the moderator “unconfirms” the material. “Escalate,” on the other hand, sends the content to Facebook’s internal review team “for further action.”
In its manual, aside from categories dealing with sex, nudity, bullying, self-harm, and graphic contents, the manual has an “IP Blocks and International Compliance” section. Within it, four types of materials are to be “escalated”: “Holocaust denial which focuses on hate speech”; “All attacks on Ataturk (visual and text)”; “Maps of Kurdistan (Turkey)”; and “Burning Turkish flag(s).” Two other types of content deemed somewhat less offensive, but still unacceptable, are “Any PKK support or [PKK related] content with no context,” and “Content supporting or showing Abdullah ‘Apo’ Ocalan.” The latter two are to be “confirmed (unless clearly against PKK and/or Ocalan).”
The categories are further clarified in a section titled “Content that should be escalated.” The list includes “Photos AND/OR text making fun of/attacking/depicting negatively/criticizing, Ataturk”; “Burning the Turkish flag (other flags are ok to be shown burning)”; “Maps of Kurdistan (as of now, only maps are escalated; other references are merely confirmed)”; and “Holocaust denial (any discussion of holocaust denial that contains hate speech should be escalated).”
Flags of Kurdistan are to be “ignored”— in other words, they are allowed. The updated 6.1 version of the manual instructs employees to be aware of “PKK versus Kurdistan flags.”
Following the leak, some Twitter users referred to Facebook as “Fascistbook.”
“Facebook has surrendered to the fascist Turkish state, and bans everything related to the Kurds and Kurdistan. Facebook = Fascistbook,” tweeted an outraged user, while another wrote, “#Facebook discriminates against kurds like hitler’s book mein kampf discriminates against Jews. We are denied our existence.#Fascistbook.”
Others were outraged that the content related to Ocalan was censored. “The only one man whose pics are banned on #Facebook #Fascistbook is Kurdish leader Ocalan. #humanrights abuse,” wrote one user.
“#Facebook didn’t want to be banned in #turkey so [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg sold his soul to the devil & now supports oppression of Kurds #Fascistbook,” tweeted another.
Turkey has banned access to thousands of websites deemed offensive. Article 301 of the Turkish penal code criminalizes “insulting the Turkish people, Republic of Turkey, and governmental institutions and bodies.” The video sharing website YouTube was banned in Turkey in May 2008, after users posted material that authorities said insulted Ataturk. Authorities removed the ban in October 2010, but reinstated it in November after a clip allegedly showed the former chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal, in a bedroom with a female aide.
In an open letter to Zuckerberg published on the Kurdish ekurd.net website, Hawar Jamal Ameen, an ethnic Kurd, voiced his disappointment at Facebook’s policies. He said the policies ignore the persecution of Kurds in Turkey, and the denial of their basic human rights; the imprisonment of Kurdish children who dare to speak their mother tongue; Ataturk’s involvement in atrocities against Armenians and Kurds; and the similarities between Nelson Mandela and Ocalan.
“I am going to make this an issue of logic, common sense, and rationality,” he wrote. “Countless people around the world are abused, victimized, and oppressed by their governments but you have not mentioned them. It seems that the Kurdish (and only Kurdish) people now have to add Facebook to the list of oppressors.”
“As a Kurd I may be biased but I am not asking you to support an independent Kurdish state or for you to allow racist abusive behavior towards Turkey or its people, but your policy has clearly been written or heavily influenced by a Turkish individual or group that specifically promotes Turkish nationalism and the oppression of the Kurdish ethnic minority,” Ameen said.