May 17, 2016

Zed Books attempts to talk Turkey with Facebook


Via WikiMedia Commons.

Via WikiMedia Commons.

When employees of London-based academic publisher Zed Books discovered, on attempting to log into the company’s Facebook account last week, that said account had been deactivated, they quickly came to believe they had identified the cause: an attempt by the social media giant to comply with the Republic of Turkey’s notoriously suppressive media policies.

Noting that this was not the first time Facebook had been accused of censoring content on behalf of the Turkish government, Zed quickly released a statement that pointed to recent posts on books by Paul White, an academic and lecturer on political science and Middle Eastern studies, and Ece Temelkuran, a Turkish journalist fired a few years ago from the popular Turkish news daily Habertürk for writing critical of the government. White’s latest book addresses a very sore subject for Turkey—the PKK (“Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê,” or “Kurdistan Workers’ Party”), a revolutionary organization that since 1984 has waged an armed struggle to achieve self-determination for the nation’s huge Kurdish minority; Temelkuran’s doesn’t, though she has written critically of Turkey’s treatment of Kurds in the past.

Support for the publisher was swift and strong, with Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, decrying what “appear[ed] to be an extremely disturbing instance of censorship,” and Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, declaring, “We hope that Facebook is not facilitating attacks on free speech.”

Under the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s journalists have been described as among the world’s least free: Reporters Sans Frontieres, an NGO monitoring censorship around the globe, ranks the nation 151st out of 180 in press freedoms — behind Russia, Pakistan, Venezuela, or Albania.  And even outside its borders, as Gawker reported a few years ago, Turkey has succeeded in pressing Facebook to restrict negative comments about its modern founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, images of burning Turkish flags, maps of Kurdistan, and any insufficiently negative mention of the PKK or its Murray Bookchin-obsessed leader Abdullah Öcalan as hate speech on par with Holocaust denial.

Late in the day Friday, Zed updated their statement to report on Facebook’s response to the uproar. The social media giant clarified that it had not removed the publisher’s page, which, it explained, had instead been taken down by “a third party who is not a Zed employee [and] had access to administrative privileges” — a situation Zed was “happy to acknowledge.”

The publisher didn’t stop there, though. Having accepted the clarification about its own page’s disappearance, Zed took advantage of the situation to keep a spotlight trained on Facebook’s policies toward political posts about Turkey, adding, “We’ve also asked for clarification regarding Facebook’s community standards; specifically whether we can continue to promote academic titles on the PKK, post maps and images of Kurdistan, refer to Abdullah Öcalan and make posts that may contain criticism of the Erdoğan government on Facebook.”  As of this writing, no response to these questions has been made public.



Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.