Three Turks the focus of major international news stories
Three ordinary Turkish citizens have been the focus of major international stories over the past week. The examples tell us much about how Turkey’s politics and culture shapes its people’s attitudes toward technology and news media, as well as about the many problems our society faces.
The first example is the woman who became a star YouTube reporter: Zeyno Erkan, reportedly a United Nations employee based in the U.S. Erkan enjoyed a week of fame in Turkey last week thanks to her YouTube live streams from the ongoing New York trial, in which Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab was a key witness being watched by hundreds of thousands of people.
As Turks turned away from most mainstream media outlets, which are censored or self-censored, Erkan was hailed by some as “a new kind of journalist.” Indeed, her coverage was engaging for many Turks: It was lively, vivid and personal, with Erkan making remarks like “Reza, my boy, what a son of a gun!”
Such qualities, coupled with plenty of partisan rhetoric and rumor-mongering, were enough to stage an interesting show that could go viral on social media. However, Erkan’s videos could not really be described as journalism - as they had few of the crucial professional practices of truth, accuracy, verification, fairness, impartiality, transparency and accountability.
I enjoyed parts of Erkan’s show but I was also offended by some of the praise for her “journalism” - not because I am a journalist myself, but because there are so many real journalists who are currently in Turkish jails simply because they have insisted on sticking to these professional practices. Also because Hürriyet was the only mainstream outlet that fully reported Zarrab’s testimony, which had so irked the Turkish government.
What we need as a polarized society is not more noise and filter bubbles in our media, but brave professionals and reputable outlets that stick to the universal principles of journalism while uncovering the truth.
The second example is the man who silenced U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter account for 11 minutes at the start of November: TechCrunch reported on Nov. 29 that the man who temporarily deactivated Trump’s Twitter feed was Bahtiyar Duysak, a 20-something man with Turkish roots who was born and raised in Germany.
Duysak was reportedly working for Twitter as a contractor for customer support during the last part of his stay in the U.S. under a work and study visa. He said he deactivated Trump’s account after someone reported it on his last day at work. It was “a mistake,” he was keen to stress.
His mistake highlighted something less funny on freedom of speech and equality. Seeking to justify its maintenance of the accounts of Trump and others, Twitter says some tweets that seemingly violate its terms of service are nevertheless “newsworthy.” This is certainly a questionable way to protect the account of the U.S. president, to whom Twitter owes so much as it struggles to grow. It elevates one man above the law and ethical standards, effectively rendering him immune on Twitter, which he can now even more liberally use to promote racism, sexism and bigotry.
Disregarding Twitter’s terms of service with such double-standards may help create a digital world ruled by arbitrary measures. This is particularly troubling, as this world is now dominated by the almighty giants of algorithms (Google, Facebook etc.) and pipes (AT&T, Verizon etc.), whose priorities do not lie in virtuous concepts like public interest and net neutrality
The third example is the Turk who embarrassed Apple: Lemi Orhan Ergin, a software engineer who notified Apple’s support team with a tweet on Nov. 28 that there is a “huge security issue at MacOS High Sierra.”
What Ergin was referred to was indeed a “huge” bug. As Forbes reported: “In what may go down as one of the most embarrassing vulnerabilities in Apple history, all a ‘hacker’ needs to do is sign in as an ‘Other’ user, type in ‘root’ for a username and no password. Then they’re in.”
A key nuance was that you had to hit the enter several times while entering the “root” username and blank password. As one of my friends joked on Twitter: “It’s no surprise that this discovery was made in the country of people who repeatedly hit elevator buttons in order to make it arrive more quickly.”
Apple, which couldn’t detect this bug despite its army of testers, eventually published a patch to fix it the next day – all thanks to Ergin’s warning.