Facebook facing accusations of censoring citizen journalism
Emrah GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily NewsA pomegranate is the logo of Ötekilerin Postası (The Others’ Post), an alternative media outlet on Facebook, whose raison d’être is to become “the collective voice of minorities, the outcast, the marginalized and those whose voices have been rendered invisible in the media; in short, the others.”
But the pomegranate also allegedly violates Facebook’s community standards, as, last week, the logo in the profile picture of Ötekilerin Postası was reported to Facebook for investigation, resulting in the editors being banned from posting to the page for 30 days.
“It’s the most beautiful symbol of social peace,” one of the co-founders and editors-in-chief behind Ötekilerin Postası, who preferred to talk merely on behalf of the alternative media page, told the Hürriyet Daily News last week.
“A pomegranate is a whole with a thousand different seeds. There is a thin layer inside. And that symbolizes our sensitivities. When that layer is removed, one of the seeds starts decaying. Then the others [decay too], until the whole fruit is gone,” the editor said, while expressing incredulity at the Facebook ban. “Isn’t that absurd?”
Absurd is the right word when Facebook’s censorship policies and tactics for investigation of its pages are in question. This is not the first firewall Ötekilerin Postası has had to face from the mysterious Facebook management since its debut about nine months ago. The site originally began its brand of citizen journalism and digital activism on Facebook as the Hunger Strike Post (Açlık Grevi Postası) in late 2012 when the mainstream media mostly stayed silent amid massive hunger strikes conducted by hundreds of Kurdish political prisoners.
Facebook has not responded to the Daily News’ requests for an explanation as to the action taken against the site.
“At the time when we were running the Hunger Strikes Post, we had told our followers that we will discontinue the page if there was not a single death throughout the strikes,” said Ötekilerin Postası. “Many of our followers told us that what we were doing was very important, that people’s right to news was restricted. They also told us about the importance of citizen journalism against censorship, and that we had to continue.”
A name decided by followers
So the Hunger Strike Post, managed by a core team of two and a couple of constantly changing volunteers, transformed into The Others’ Post, a name decided by followers themselves. As put in a letter written to daily BirGün in late July, Ötekilerin Postası hoped to set “an example of how to bring together identities as diverse as Kurds, LGBT communities, animal rights activists, environmentalists, Armenians, workers, students, believers, nonbelievers, and many more.”
Ötekilerin Postası went through a profound change when Turkey experienced a profound change with the Gezi protests. The page that was basically a citizen journalism hub for the Kurdish issue, and that was “mostly shaped with news from Kurds” went on to become one of the biggest alternative news sources during the Gezi protests.
“Those who felt more threatened and oppressed began looking for news sources that were alternative to the mainstream media,” said Ötekilerin Postası. “The mainstream media not only turned a blind eye to the protests, but deliberately tried to break the resistance with disinformation. Those who took to the streets, those who saw their friends taken into custody directly experienced how they were deceived by the media. Because what they were seeing on the evening news and what they were experiencing on the streets were completely different.”
But the growth in citizen journalism led to problems with Facebook management. But while the page had to deal with attempts at censorship, or what Ötekilern Postası calls “semi-censorship,” which included sanctions like “not being able to post, deleting some of the posts, or some of the comments,” the livelihood of the page was never at stake.
“However after the Gezi protests, our page was closed twice,” said Ötekilerin Postası. “The first of these [closures], we were told, was for sharing ‘pornographic content,’” which after an appeal turned out to be not the case. Yet the original page with 138,000 followers was not reinstated. A new page was opened, drawing 88,000 followers in a mere three weeks, thanks to social media campaigns against the censorship of the page, only to be closed once again without any specific reason. Then came the “semi-censorship” for the pomegranate logo.
The site started a third page in the last week, attracting over 40,000 followers.
‘Facebook is doing censorship’
“In short, what Facebook is doing is censorship: blatantly taking sides and engaging in digital vandalism,” said Ötekilerin Postası.
How do Facebook page owners deal with situations like these? Ironically, the biggest social media network on the planet with more than 1 billion members is itself unreachable. Facebook’s generic forms and buttons let you send questions, report violations or ask for appeals. However, when, or if, you will get an answer is entirely unknown.
“Who are these people?” asked Ötekilerin Postası. “Are they really impartial? In our opinion, no. It is about people working for Facebook and investigating reports.”
“This is systematic and deliberate,” Cengiz Algan told the Daily News seven months ago when his Facebook page, DurDe! (Say Stop), Turkey’s biggest grassroots anti-racist initiative, faced a similar case of censorship.
Noting that Facebook ignored dozens of pages and posts that overtly advocated hate speech against Kurds and Armenians, Algan said: “Facebook needs to reassess its operations in Turkey. There are obviously racist employees in the team.”
According to a leak from a former employee, Facebook has allegedly been recruiting low-wage third-world contractors to monitor country pages and delete certain content with no proper systems of control. Given that, more censorship seems to be on the horizon for citizen journalists.