WordPress Yields to Putin

WordPress censors Putin-Hitler mock photo on request of Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor

A couple of months ago, Russia’s state media regulator Roskomnadzor sent a complaint to WordPress demanding that it remove a doctored photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin dressed as Hitler, claiming the image is “prohibited for public distribution in the Russian Federation.”

The offending image, via https://belgarathblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/vladimir_putin-als-hitler.jpg:

vladimir_putin-als-hitlerAccording to the Lumen Database, a website that collects takedown requests of online content, WordPress has taken action against the German blog that hosts the image.

russian-takedown-demand-to-wordpress

Roskomnadzor’s September 27, 2016 complaint, via the Lumen Database

When you enter the offending URL into a Russian proxy, you get this message

unavailable-for-legal-reasons-wordpress

…an HTTP error code approved late last year by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), and which has been endorsed by WordPress.

WordPress has developed a good reputation for its principled support of freedom of speech.

In 2008, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg stated that his company “supports free speech and doesn’t shut people down for ‘uncomfortable thoughts and ideas,’ in fact, we’re blocked in several countries because of that.”

However, WordPress recently changed its policy on geo-blocking. Via my blog last week, the blogging service said that it now complies with censorship demands in order to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users within authoritarian countries, who would otherwise face more drastic punishment from their Internet service provider.

A list of WordPress blogs currently geo-blocked in Russia is available by clicking here.


See also: “Erdoğan Strikes Again,” my November 27, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of Turkish political blog following court order by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan Strikes Again

WordPress geo-blocks Turkish political blog that posted cartoons by internationally renowned satirical cartoonists following court order from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Last month, İstanbul lawyer Ahmet Özel filed a complaint with WordPress on behalf of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The complaint, in the form of a court order, requested that WordPress restrict access to a Turkish blog page featuring satirical cartoons depicting Erdoğan as a tyrannical dictator, claiming they constituted “an attack on personality rights” and do not “reflect reality.”

lumen-database-erdogan-court-order

Erdoğan’s October 9, 2016 complaint, via the Lumen Database

Earlier this year, WordPress (via transparency.automattic.com) stated that – absent a U.S. court order – it refuses to take action in response to takedown demands from Turkey.

However, it appears that the offending blog page is currently geo-blocked in Turkey. When you enter the URL¹ into a Turkish proxy, you get this message…

unavailable-for-legal-reasons

…which links to an official WordPress page on how to bypass the block.

When I asked WordPress whether it had taken action against the Turkish blog, I received the following response from Community Guardian Janet J:

From: Janet J ­ WordPress.com <tosreports@wordpress.com>
To: **** <****@aol.com>
Subject: [#2927379]: [automattic] Geo­blocking
Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:11

Hi there Dean,

Yes, that is correct. We are forced to geo-block the specific sites mentioned in the Turkish court orders or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country. Instead, we direct users to a message explaining why the site is unavailable, and point them to this site:

https://beatcensorship.wordpress.com/

All the best,


Janet J | Community Guardian | WordPress.com

When I then asked about WordPress’ policy of refusing to take action against bloggers, per the above mentioned Automattic statement, this was her response:

From: Janet J ­ WordPress.com <tosreports@wordpress.com>
To: **** <****@aol.com>
Subject: [#2927379]: [automattic] Geo­blocking
Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2016 15:40

Hi there,

Thanks for the follow up.

That blog post was correct at the time of writing, but our process has since changed, in order to find the best possible compromise to allow us to continue to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users in Turkey. Rather than have sites blocked by ISPs with no explanation, we have decided to implement blocks ourselves so that we can provide alternative messaging, and an explanation for visitors to the sites in question.

There is no good solution to the issue of political censorship, and we are constantly reviewing the processes to find ways to combat it, including taking legal action in Turkey where appropriate. Going forward, we’ll look into making the current process clearer in our next transparency report.

All the best,


Janet J | Community Guardian | WordPress.com

I also spoke with Jaume Capdevila aka KAP, an award-winning Spanish cartoonist whose 2013 cartoon of Erdoğan features prominently on the censored blog.

KAP, Cagle Cartoons (2013)

“[Freedom of expression] is a basic right of people, it is a basic freedom,” said Capdevila. “The debate of ideas is fundamental, and it enriches all. Censorship is the first step towards ignorance and fear.”

He also explained how satire erodes the image of power.”

To laugh means to lose fear, and fear is what keeps the totalitarians in power. It is therefore natural to react against cartoons, against journalists, and against the Internet, which is a means by which the population can inform and organise to recover lost democracy.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Capdevila said he felt honoured to know his cartoon had succeeded in riling the Turkish despot, whom he described as “an authoritarian politician” seeking to maintain power through fear and repression.

“As a cartoonist it is an honour to know that an intolerant prohibits one of your drawings, of course! In recent years, the satirical cartoonist is a trade with more risk… we are not heroes and do not want to be, but things like this give some sense to our trade.”

He added: “One of the best things in our job is to know that there was someone in Turkey who thought that this drawing could be useful for his struggle for freedom and used it on his blog, or wherever. The ultimate meaning of satirical drawings is to reach the maximum of people and awaken in them something…”

Spanish cartoonist Jaume Capdevila aka KAP

The censored blog also features work by renowned American cartoonist Daryl Cagle, and Patrick Chappatte, editorial cartoonist for The New York Times.

In Cagle’s cartoon, the Turkish leader brazenly denies that his pants are on fire (literally), labelling his accusers “drunkard, extremist Twitterheads.”

Daryl Cagle, Cagle Cartoons (2013)

In Chappatte’s cartoon, Erdoğan is building a huge statue of himself in Taksim Square as an “urban development project,” while angry protesters are gathered outside.

Patrick Chappatte, Cagle Cartoons (2013)

Turkey has a long and colourful history of trying to censor cartoonists.

Last year, Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan, from the Turkish satirical magazine Penguen, were sentenced to 11 months and 20 days in prison after having published a cartoon satirising Erdoğan’s heavy-handed treatment of journalists (the sentence was subsequently reduced to a fine of 7,000 Liras – equalling 1,600 Pounds – each).

In August, top Turkish cartoonist Dogan Güzel spent two days in detention following a raid on İstanbul-based newspaper Özgür Gündem (Turkish for “Free Agenda”).

Earlier this month, another top Turkish cartoonist, Musa Kart, was arrested as part of a roundup of journalists from the country’s opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet.


¹Link: https://yuksekstrateji.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/mizah-yabanci-basinda-cikan-recep-tayyip-erdogan-karikaturleri/

Unfurnished

Award-winning reporter Tristin Hopper says The National Post geo-blocked his article about UK celebrity injunction after being contacted by internationally renowned law firm Fasken Martineau

Last month, I blogged about efforts by David Furnishhusband of pop singer Elton Johnto censor journalists and Internet users from reporting or discussing his alleged extra-marital affair with another married couple.

Furnish hired at least two London law firms to enforce a high court injunction he obtained in January preventing newspapers in England and Wales from reporting the story.¹

But efforts to squash the story didn’t end there.

The story as reported by the Daily Mail earlier this year

In April, UK-based anti-piracy company Web Sheriff filed 12 copyright complaints with Google requesting it remove a total of 447 URLs linking to articles about the scandal.

Among the websites flagged for removal was Toronto-based publication The National Post, whose April 11, 2016 article, “Why the English media could go to jail for reporting on the olive oil trysts of Elton John’s husband” by WMA award-winning reporter Tristin Hopper, did not skimp on the grisly details of Furnish’s alleged affair.

tristin-hopper-the-national-post-april-11-2016

Via a US proxy, the National Post’s April 11, 2016 article

Although Google didn’t enforce Web Sheriff’s complaint, Hopper’s article was later geo-blocked from being viewed in the UK.

When I asked Hopper about Web Sheriff, he said the Post geo-blocked his article after it was contacted by Fasken Martineau, an internationally renowned Canadian business law and mitigation firm with offices in London and Toronto.

“Web Sheriff did not contact us, but we did hear from a lawyer hired by Mr. Furnish,” said Hopper, referring to the Canadian firm.

He added: “It might be Furnish or Elton John’s regular Canadian lawyer. At a certain level of fame, I imagine you’ve got a lawyer on speed dial for every major country, whether it be for copyright issues or signing contracts or the like.”

National Post reporter Tristin Hopper

About the Post’s decision to geo-block his article in the UK, Hopper said: “[T]he legality is murky, but I do believe it was done on the belief that we become subject to UK law once we enter UK web space.”

Fasken Martineau did not respond to multiple requests for comment.


¹I live in Northern Ireland, therefore not bound by the injunction in England and Wales.

See also: “The Bitch is Back,” my September 12, 2016 article about Furnish’s efforts to censor online news stories about his alleged affair.