A Turkish court has asked US-based social website, Facebook, to locally block access to pages considered blasphemous towards Prophet Muhammad and religion, or face a complete ban in the country. In March 2013, the Turkish government blocked access to Twitter and YouTube, following leaks posted on them of senior officials discussing Turkey’s plans regarding military action in Syria and audio recordings of individuals who are close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Although the country’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutuglo, attended the solidarity march in favour of free speech in the wake of the attack on satirical magazine Cherlie Hebdo in Paris, he has defended the court’s verdict since he believes that freedom of express should not be used to insult others’ religion.
Facebook, compared to Twitter and YouTube, has been far more cooperative with Turkey on matters related to censorship. According to the company’s most recent public report concerning this, which covers the first half of 2014, Turkey stands at 2nd with 1,900 pieces of content blocked on its request. President Erdogan, who is deemed to be following an Islamist agenda, fully supports censorship, in the name of religion or national interest. Currently, a leading Turkish daily, Cumhuriyet, is also facing inquiries for publishing certain sections of the recent issue by Charlie Hebdo, the first one after the attack. While Europe and the US have time and again raised questions on Turkey’s stance on freedom of speech and expression, there is no evidence of any change in Istanbul’s thinking.
While Facebook has not issued an official statement, reports claim that the company is very much complying with court orders, and blocking pages considered blasphemous. Social media has caused greatest controversy in countries that have not evolved to comprehend the importance of freedom of speech and adhere to a distorted version of democracy. Facebook, and other social networking platforms, may not ideologically agree with the case being made by countries seeking ban on ‘blasphemous’ content, they often have to abide by local laws, or be banned from growing markets in the developing world. They will continue to face these problems due to the diversity of the markets which they operate in. Interestingly, in countries such as Pakistan, which is always at the frontline of holding anti-blasphemy rallies and demanding punishments, hate speech is a norm. It is aired on national television and is an integral part of sermons given from the country’s mosques. However, it is only perceived blasphemy against the popular religion, which sparks protests and violence.