Erdoğan Censorship Demand Links Him to ISIS

— Turkey’s authoritarian president demands U.S. social media giants censor critical posts, tweets, and satirical cartoons linking him to Islamic terrorism

In 2016 and 2017, I blogged about takedown demands sent by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, targeting satirical cartoons and “humiliating” news reports comparing him to Hitler.

Turkey’s censorious circus continues with yet another round of online takedown requests, this time targeting “insulting” posts about its authoritarian leader, who in recent years has jailed hundreds of journalists and critics as part of a sweeping media crackdown.

The illicit content concerns Erdoğan’s alleged ties to Islamic terrorism, including claims by a former Turkish government official that the Turkish president helped fund ISIS and other militant groups in Syria through a non-governmental charitable organisation.

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The claims were published by British investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, whose in-depth report about Turkey’s terrorist ties is just one of several critical posts included in a lengthy ten-page court order that earlier this month was sent to U.S. tech and social media companies on behalf of the Turkish president himself.

According to the February 2 court order, “hurtful, exaggerated words…constitute a criminal offence against the President of the country” because “a significant segment of society identifies themselves with political leaders” and because “the insults that have been made and reflected to the public have caused reactions to increase polarisation in society…with many killings and injuries.”

In the interests of full disclosure, here are a few notable examples of the “hurtful, exaggerated words” and images cited in the order:

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Mumbai Cyber Police Shut Down Gay Modi Photoshop

— BuzzFeed deletes homoerotic photoshop of Indian prime minister following legal threats from Mumbai police, highlighting gay rights issues, censorship in India

The doctored image, which depicts Indian PM Narendra Modi embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on an idyllic beach, is one of 18 related images included in a January 4, 2016 BuzzFeed listicle by Imaan Sheikh, “18 Modi Photoshops That Should’ve Never Fucking Happened.”

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On Wednesday, that number mysteriously dropped to 17.

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In a comment, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed said:

BuzzFeed India removed the image in question after receiving a notice from the Mumbai Police alleging defamation.

It’s not the first time police in Mumbai have tried to censor the homoerotic photoshop.

In November, Mumbai’s cyber crime department ordered Google to block the allegedly “defamatory morphed/vulgar photos” as published on BuzzFeed, Facebook, Twitter, and others, on the basis that the offending images were intended to “create UNREST, BREACH of PEACE which might result in LAW & ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India.”

The department also demanded that Google hand over personal information about the creator of the photos, including mobile phone numbers, e-mail and IP addresses. 

Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

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As of publication, all but two of the flagged Facebook links are still searchable using Google.

There’s no evidence Google possesses or handed over any of the requested personal information.

Homosexuality is a taboo subject in India. A colonial-era law still in force today, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, forbids “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”—that includes gay sex—with offenders facing fines and up to 10 years in jail.

India’s home minister, who is depicted as Modi’s beau in the gay beach photoshop, previously said he supported Section 377 because “we [referring to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is chaired by Modi] believe that homosexuality is an unnatural act that cannot be supported.”

Recently, publishers have joined gay Indians in the legal cross hairs.

As reported by The Washington Post earlier this week, it’s becoming “increasingly difficult” for journalists and editors in India to do their jobs due to frivolous legal threats by Modi loyalists.

Loyalists to the country’s powerful Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, have bullied editors into taking down critical stories, hushed government bureaucrats and shifted from the common practice of filing defamation cases to lodging more serious criminal complaints, which can mean jail time and take years in India’s overburdened court system.

Modi, popular but thin-skinned, has effectively cut off the mainstream media, forgoing news conferences to communicate directly with his vast electorate through Twitter, where he has 40 million followers. India fell three spots on the World Press Freedom Index to 136 in 2017, according to the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, below Afghanistan and Burma, because of growing self-censorship and the activity of Hindu nationalists trying to purge “anti-nationalist” thought, the group said.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s minister for electronics and information technology, denies that his government has attempted to impede press freedom.

Via the WashPost:

[Prasad] said any suggestion that the government was hampering press freedom was “completely wrong.”

“Obviously you can see how many newspapers and channels are critical of us, blasting my government,” he said.

Stockholmies

— Charity for self-exiled Turkish journalists living in Stockholm cites my blog post re: legal efforts by Turkey’s First Lady to scrub negative news stories about herself from the web

Earlier this week I blogged about legal efforts by Turkey’s First Lady Emine Erdoğan to scrub negative news stories about herself from the web.

The story has since been picked up by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), a non-profit advocacy group set-up by self-exiled Turkish journalists living in Stockholm, Sweden.

From the “About” page of the SCF website:

Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) is an advocacy organization that promotes the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms with a special focus on Turkey, a country with eighty million citizens that is experiencing a dramatic decline in its parliamentary democracy under its autocratic leadership.

SCF is a non-profit organization set up by a group of journalists who have been forced to live in self-exile in Sweden against the background of a massive crackdown on press freedom in Turkey, where almost 300 journalists have been jailed, (For updated list click) and close to 200 media outlets have been shuttered by a series of arbitrary decisions taken by the Turkish authorities. It is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, a country that has a strong tradition on the freedom of expression and just celebrated the 250th anniversary of the anniversary for the adoption of legal guarantees for freedom of information and a free press.

SCF is committed to being a reference source which provides a broad and accurate perspective on rights violations in Turkey, monitoring daily developments through the lens of fact-based investigative journalism, and documenting individual cases of infringement of fundamental rights and liberties.

The founders of SCF are experienced and respected journalists who managed national daily newspapers in Turkey for years before they were forced to leave. They have the expertise, human resources, and network on the ground to track events in Turkey despite serious challenges and impediments to accessing information.

Via “Turkey’s ‘First Lady’ seeks to censor negative reports about her on Internet,”¹ Stockholm Center for Freedom, October 6, 2017:

According to an article written by Dean Sterling Jones titled “First Lady of Lumen” published in “Shooting the Messenger,” based on data assured by the Lumen Database, a website that collects and analyses online takedown requests, Emine Erdoğan, who is the wife of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan so she is Turkey’s First Lady, sent a Turkish court order complaint to Google and WordPress demanding the removal of news reports describing them as “damaging” to her “personality rights.”

“Personality rights” refers to “the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity.” However, according to the article most of the targeted URLs, including one of the WordPress blogs, have since been removed from the web, making it difficult to determine the specifics of Erdoğan’s complaint. From the remaining URLs, it appears that she objected to a blitz of negative news reports and images.

Targeted URLs include a Google blog post about Turkey’s nationwide Twitter ban, another since-deleted story that implicates the Turkish First Lady in a corruption scandal, and an article that appears to suggest that Turkish citizens who insult their government will be deported and have their citizenship revoked.

[…]

Turkey has become once again the leading country among the countries that have censored and requested removal of content from Twitter, according to a transparency report covering between Jan. 1 – Jun. 30, 2017.

The Turkish Interior Ministry stated on August 7, 2016 that 3,710 people have been the subject of legal proceedings and 1,656 were arrested between March and August 2016 due to social media posts. As of the end of 2016, at least 10,000 people were under investigation for committing the alleged crime of making terrorist propaganda and insulting senior state officials on social media.

According to figures released by the Ministry of Interior Affairs in December 2016, 3,710 social media users had been investigated in the last six months of 2016, of whom 1,656 were arrested. A total of 1,203 of those investigations resulted in releases on probation.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has shown that 280 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of September 30, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 255 are pending trial, but only 25 journalists remain convicted while serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrant remains for 134 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Click here to read the full article.

¹The English is a little shaky, so I’ve made some light edits.

First Lady of Lumen

— First Lady of Turkey Emine Erdoğan demands takedown of negative news reports

That’s according to the Lumen Database, a website that collects and analyses online takedown requests. In April, the site uploaded a Turkish court order complaint Erdoğan sent to Google and WordPress demanding the removal of news reports described as “damaging” to the “personality rights” of the First Lady.

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“Personality rights” refers to “the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity.”

Most of the targeted URLs, including one of the WordPress blogs, have since been removed from the web, making it difficult to determine the specifics of Erdoğan’s complaint.

From the remaining URLs, it appears that she objected to a blitz of negative news reports and images, including this image of her husband, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, wearing what appears to be a training bra on his head:

Definitely not a fez (source)

Elsewhere, the Turkish First Lady has targeted Turkish opposition paper Ulusal Kanal for reporting that she copied her Twitter bio from former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. While the original link is no longer available, a duplicate of the story carries the headline: “Emine Erdoğan is disgraced in the world!”

The story was first reported in 2014 by former Pentagon advisor Michael Rubin, who wrote via the American Enterprise Institute:

When it comes to respect for Intellectual Property Rights, Turkey ranks quite poorly. If Turkey wants to reform, perhaps they should start at the top. When Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assumed the presidency last month, his wife Emine became first lady. It seems Emine models herself after Michelle Obama, right down to her twitter account.

The description on Michelle’s twitter account reads, “This account is run by Organizing for Action staff. Tweets from the First Lady are signed -mo.”

Now here’s the description from Emine Erdoğan’s twitter feed: “Emine Erdoğan Resmi Twitter Hesabı This account is run by Organizing for Action staff. Tweets from the First Lady are signed -mo.”

Then again, maybe it’s not shameless plagiarism in Turkey’s presidential palace. Maybe Emine Erdoğan really does use the initials ‘mo.’ And as for suggesting any impropriety that might undercut Emine’s vestal image, I’m sure we’re only a Turkish press conference away from blaming this scandal on Jews, the interest rate lobbyyours truly, that well-known personification of subversion Steven Cook, or the Gülenists.

As it happens, Turkish officials didn’t blame the Jews, instead blaming “anti-government forces” and claiming that the Twitter account was not operated by the Turkish First Lady.

Speaking to the Washington Free Beacon, Rubin gave his own interpretation:

“The account has been active since August,” Rubin said. “Turkey has taken the power to knock sites offline without court orders in a matter of minutes. The Turkish explanation beggars belief.”

“The fact that Emine Erdogan’s account continues—this time with its plagiarized description fixed—suggests that Emine’s handlers screwed up but were too proud to admit it,” Rubin said. “The whole incident is a metaphor for what Turkey has become: dishonest, dishonorable, but too proud to admit its fundamental corruption.”

Other targeted URLs include a Google blog post about Turkey’s nationwide Twitter ban, another since-deleted story that implicates the Turkish First Lady in a financial corruption scandal, and an article that appears to suggest that Turkish citizens who insult their government will be deported and have their citizenship revoked.

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It’s not the first time the Erdoğans have petitioned Google and WordPress to delete negative reports about themselves from the web.

Last year I blogged about successful attempts by the Turkish president to block a WordPress blog featuring satirical cartoons depicting him as a tyrannical dictator. That story was subsequently picked up by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Maren Williams (click here to read), and touched on by The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markey (click here to read).

Earlier this year, the easily offended president asked Google to delist “hurtful, humiliating” reports comparing him to Adolf Hitler. That story was subsequently picked up by Techdirt’s Tim Cushing (click here to read).

Techdirt Skewers Turkey

Techdirt publishes article based on my blog post re: Erdoğan’s takedown demand of “humiliating” news reports comparing him to Hitler

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Via “Turkish President Demands Google Delist a Bunch of Websites Comparing Him to Hitler” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, May 24, 2017:

from the ‘Hitler-was-an-amateur-authoritarian,’-the-president-complained dept

The world’s most thin-skinned “leader” is at it again. Perpetually-insulted Turkish super-villain Recip Erdogan is still firing off court orders to Google, expecting the immediate banishment of anything he finds offensive. Dean Jones of the invaluable Shooting the Messenger has more details:


The Turkish tyrant ordered Google
[Note: actually, Google only dealt with three Blogspot URLs; the rest is addressed to the Internet in general, I guess.] to delist over 40 URLs including a critical report by The Washington Times, plus an AOL image search for “Adolf Erdoğan,” because they allegedly link to “hurtful, humiliating” images and memes.

[…]

The targeted sites had reported about Erdoğan’s recent crackdown on journalists and other critics of the Turkish government, comparing him to Hitler.


Not helping these comparisons is Erdogan’s similar facial structure and his endless vindictive actions against anyone who’s hurt his feelings.

Turkish law gives him considerable leeway to do this. Unfortunately, a small handful of countries have extended helping hands rather than middle fingers in response to censorship and/or prosecution demands. It’s unknown why the Turkish government thought Google could help it out with an AOL image search, but it’s equally unclear why it didn’t ask for the delisting of Google’s image search, which shows virtually-identical results.

The more someone humors this tyrant, the worse he’s going to get. And it certainly doesn’t help that Jones’ report comes on the heels of the Erdogan’s US visit, during which his personal bodyguards beat up American protesters. This prompted a tepid display of disappointment from the US State Department and a much more hot-blooded demand for an apology from the Turkish government US law enforcement daring to interrupt Erdogan’s bodyguards while they were beating up US citizens.

Read the full article by clicking here.

Adolf Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan orders takedown of “humiliating” news reports comparing him to Hitler

The Turkish tyrant ordered Google to delist over 40 URLs including a critical report by The Washington Times, plus an AOL image search for “Adolf Erdoğan,” because they allegedly link to “hurtful, humiliating” images and memes.

The Washington Times, January 5, 2016 (source)

Via the Lumen Database, the March 30, 2017 court order says that “freedom of the press is not unlimited” and that “criticism is against the law.”

The targeted sites had reported about Erdoğan’s recent crackdown on journalists and other critics of the Turkish government, comparing him to Hitler.

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During his visit to the White House last week, Erdoğan’s bodyguards brutally attacked a group of anti-Erdoğan protesters. Turkey has demanded that the U.S. apologise for its “aggressive and unprofessional actions” in allowing the protests to continue.

Preaching to the Press

Is the British press unintentionally aiding efforts to implement state-backed press regulation?

Last October, IMPRESS became the first Royal Charter-backed press regulator in Britain after its application was approved by the Press Recognition Panel (PRP), the government-funded body set up in the wake of the 2012 Leveson Report to oversee press regulation.

The decision to approve IMPRESS has proven controversial with the British press, with speculation about its motives and sources of funding.

What the press thinks of IMPRESS (source)

One particularly controversial area of concern is the involvement of motor racing tycoon Max Mosley, son of notorious wartime fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley.

British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley (source)

In 2008, the younger Mosley – who currently funds IMPRESS via two charitieswon a court case against disgraced British tabloid the News of the World (now defunct) after it reported about his participation in what it termed a “sick Nazi orgy” with prostitutes.

2008-news-of-the-world-max-mosley-story

Sleazy 2008 report by News of the World (source)

Critics claim Mosley has a vendetta against the popular press, and is bankrolling IMPRESS using his father’s money to serve a personal agenda – accusations he has repeatedly denied, albeit unconvincingly.

Another primary area of concern is Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, under which publishers who are not a member of an approved regulator could soon face “exemplary” damages – for instance having to pay their opponent’s costs in libel and privacy cases, regardless of who wins.

Critics argue Section 40 could undermine a “vibrant local press” by “blackmailing” publishers into joining, otherwise face “draconian” sanctions.

These are fair and principled criticisms, and the British press is right to be concerned that state-backed regulation presents a threat to freedom of the press. However, critics would be wise to listen to and acknowledge pro-regulation arguments – if not to reconcile their aims with those of Leveson, then to save their own neck.

Lord Justice Leveson (source)

Take for example The Sun, one of several British tabloids to come under close scrutiny during the 2011 Leveson Inquiry. A fierce opponent of state-backed press regulation, it casually dismisses pro-regulation campaigners like Hacked Off as “leftie plotters.”

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The Sun’s gratuitous “leftie plotters” headline (source)

Are supporters of Leveson likely to find this sort of language persuasive? Or is The Sun merely preaching to the converted?

Another recent example, by way of the Daily Telegraph, perfectly illustrates the way in which the British press is carelessly sowing the seeds of its own destruction. As reported on this blog, last month the Telegraph published a sensationalist article about Steve McNought, whose Bristol-based publishing company Arkbound was recently approved by IMPRESS.

The January 21, 2017 article, “Armed robber turned publisher wins approval from state-approved Press regulator funded by Max Mosley” by the Sunday Telegraph’s chief reporter Robert Mendick, focused on McNought’s criminal past, namely a series of armed robberies he committed in 2007-08 for which he received a 12-year prison sentence.

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The Telegraph’s January 21, 2017 article (source)

The details of McNought’s US crime spree would make for a compelling episode of True Crimes, but that’s not what the Telegraph intended; as McNought told me in a comment on this blog, the article was a clear attempt to undermine Impress, using me as a tool to do so, in the most nasty and underhand way.”

In other words, the Telegraph fulfilled the worst expectations of its critics, betraying the principles of ethical journalism – if not the “full spirit” of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) code of practice to which it supposedly subscribes. To boot, McNought says he is considering legal action against the Telegraph for allegedly falsely reporting about his crimes and infringing his privacy.

The “draconian” Section 40 is presently awaiting a final signature from Culture Secretary Karen Bradley. Question: Is the British press willing to risk its hard-won freedoms for the sake of a few cheap shots at its political opponents?

Let’s hope not.

See also: “Crime and Regulation,” my January 24, 2017 item re: Steve McNought’s full response to the Telegraph’s article about his criminal past.

And: “The Case for Regulation,” my October 31, 2016 item re: Members of IMPRESS answer criticism that state-backed regulation could undermine a “vibrant local press.”

And: “UnIMPRESSed,” my October 27, 2016 item re: Two publications are no longer applying to join IMPRESS – with another on the fence.

WikiLeaks Goes “Full Trump”

WikiLeaks claims it invented popular whistle-blower program SecureDrop and that Julian Assange co-founded the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) – claims denied by FPF co-founder Micah Lee in heated exchange with the WikiLeaks Task Force

Last week, WikiLeaks tweeted that the Associated Press and other press organisations had adopted “WikiLeaks technology” in adopting SecureDrop, a whistle-blower submission program developed by U.S. “hacktivist” and transparency advocate, the late Aaron Swartz.

wikileaks-january-31-2017-securedrop-claimsource

In response, Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) co-founder Micah Lee tweeted that Wikileaks’ claim re: SecureDrop was “a lie” and that it had “never contributed” to the program’s development.

micah-lee-january-31-2017-wikileaks-responsesource

This was followed by a heated exchange between Lee and the WikiLeaks Task Force, an official WikiLeaks account set up in October 2016 to “correct misinformation” about its namesake organisation.

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In its response, the Task Force claimed Swartz and FPF developed SecureDrop using technology “invented at WL,” and that WikiLeaks’ founder, exiled Australian journalist Julian Assange, co-founded FPF…

wikileaks-january-31-2017-fpf-claimsource

…claims denied by Lee in another tweet:

micah-lee-january-31-2017-fpf-responsesource

The Task Force then doubled down, claiming Lee was not a founder of FPF…

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…in another tweet even claiming Lee was “an anti-freedom of speech campaigner”:

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However, the FPF website clearly lists Lee as one of its co-founders:

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As covered on this blog, the WikiLeaks Task Force recently began threatening legal action against Twitter users, including journalists, who criticise WikiLeaks and Assange.

In this case, at least, Lee had the final word:

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Hates Speech

Former BBC Wales Head of Public Affairs Leighton Andrews calls for European regulation of Facebook and Google

Leighton Andrews, the former Head of Public Affairs for BBC Wales, has called for European law makers to regulate U.S. Internet giants Facebook and Google.

Former Head of Public Affairs for BBC Wales, Leighton Andrews (source)

In two similarly worded articles on Open Democracy UK and Medium, Andrews argued that Facebook and Google are media companies, and should therefore be subject to stringent rules regarding antitrust issues, content, branding and “hate speech.”

Via “Europe should regulate Facebook and Google” by Leighton Andrews, Medium, December 9, 2016.

As well as their dominance of advertising, the two ‘titans’…have become the dominant news distributors as well. 44% of US adults get their news via Facebook according to the Pew Research Centre having taken over as the top news referrer from Google in 2015 according to the traffic analytics site parse.ly. At least originating news organisations get to keep their branding in the Google News app: in the Facebook News Feed, as Alex Hern pointed out in the Guardian, there’s no branding difference between fake news sites and established and respected news outlets…meaning that fake news can vie with real news for top spots.

Via “We need European regulation of Facebook and Google” by Leighton Andrews, Open Democracy UK, December 12, 2016.

What is needed is the necessary strategic alliance between other media companies, civil society organisations and academic specialists to drive an agenda forward to address the powers of internet intermediaries, in terms of content rules, competition issues and their dominance of the advertising markets which as we have seen has had the effect of undermining the newspaper industry in particular…

…Moving forward, there needs to be a coordinated and sustainable lobby at a European level, involving media organisations, advertisers, civic society organisations, and academic specialists interested in media policy to create the space for legislative action

– In defence of facts on digital advertising metrics
– In defence of facts in news reporting and/or attribution
– In defence of the rule of law (for example German hate speech laws)

Assuming Brexit goes ahead, and the UK does want a relationship akin to the EEA, then it’s likely it will have to adhere in practice to EU Media laws. EU legislation may be our last, best hope for effective action. There’s a thing.

I’ll leave it to the experts to debate the merits of antitrust regulation, but I can’t sit still for Andrews’ arguments in favour of controlling content, branding and “hate speech.”

Unlike the U.S., the EU famously doesn’t have a strong constitutional guarantee regarding freedom of speech or of the press. Consequently, countries within Europe have implemented a number of vague laws targeting political speech under the pretext of national security, racial and religious tolerance, and even women’s rights.

“Hate speech” is an especially meaningless term which has nevertheless been adopted by many European countries to punish unpopular speech. Just this month, Dutch politician and prominent Eurosceptic Geert Wilders was found guilty of hate speech by a Dutch court after he called for “fewer Moroccans” in the country.

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders (source)

While you might not agree with Wilders’ comments or sympathise with his worldview, the point is that the legal concept of “hate speech” is sufficiently vague to encompass all kinds of political speech, not just unpopular words and ideas.

The arbitrary nature of hate speech laws and other, equally vague speech laws have proven controversial in some EU member states.

There was outrage earlier this year when – at the whim of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – Germany agreed to prosecute prominent German satirist Jan Böhmermann, who had ridiculed the Turkish despot on national televisionAfter all, what kind of democracy prosecutes its satirists?

Yet the decision should not have come as a surprise. Germany has long placed limits on “insulting” speech, in agreement with the various rulings handed down by the European Court of Human Rights.

As Hamburg international media law expert Dr. Ralph Oliver Graef told The Intercept in April: “If you agree that hate speech at a certain level is punishable, then you have to be open to the idea that some things are not allowed to be said, even about a dictator.”

German satirist Jan Böhmermann on the cover of Der Spiegel (source)

Not wishing to succumb to the logical fallacy of the slippery slope, it’s easy to see where regulation of the media – and of speech in general – might lead. Just look to Turkey, where journalists are routinely prosecuted for reporting unfavourably about the government, and satirists are no longer free to openly ridicule those in power.

Is this what we want for our media or for our own hard-won freedoms? Personally, I’m with Welsh YouTuber Bill Hilton, who tweeted this response to Andrews’ Medium article:

leighton-andrews-bill-hilton-exchange

Error 451

WordPress censors critical blog post about Armenian Olympic Committee President and rumoured Sochi crime lord Ruben “Robson” Tatulyan following complaint from Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor

This is part three of a series of posts about WordPress, the San Francisco-based blogging platform which earlier this year said that – absent a U.S. court order – it chooses to ignore outside requests to censor content, but now complies with takedown demands from Russian and Turkish authorities.

In October, Russia’s state media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, sent a complaint to WordPress demanding that it censor a critical blog post about Ruben “Robson” Tatulyan, President of the National Olympic Committee of Armenia and rumoured Sochi crime lord.

roskomnadzors-october-31-2016-complaint-to-wordpress-about-ruben-tatulyan

Roskomnadzor’s October 31, 2016 complaint to WordPress (source)

The offending blog post, which Roskomnadzor claims violates Tatulyan’s privacy “rights and freedoms,” describes an incident at Sochi International Airport earlier this year, when Tatulyan and his entourage – driving vehicles carrying Armenian embassy number plates – brazenly violated numerous traffic regulations.

According to Russian news reports, Tatulyan boasted to security staff about supposedly having acquired ambassadorship in Armenia, before speeding away in the wrong lane through the airport’s car park and ramming an automatic barrier.

A video of the incident, as captured on CCTV:

Tatulyan is not listed as holding office at the Armenian embassy in Russia, although several Russian news reports – including the targeted WordPress post – have alluded to his possible involvement in Russia’s criminal underworld.

One popular online publication, Crime Russia (itself the target of multiple takedown requests from Roskomnadzor), even alleges that Tatulyan is “shadow ruler” of all crime syndicates in Sochi, succeeding the notorious Russian mafia boss Aslan Usoyan aka Grandpa Hassan, who was assassinated in 2013.

Roskomnadzor’s complaint to WordPress does not try to refute these claims, instead citing a dubious Russian law restricting the publication of “personal data” in an effort to censor the offending blog post.

roskomnadzors-october-31-2016-complaint-to-wordpress-via-the-lumen-database

According to the Lumen Database, WordPress has partially enforced Roskomnadzor’s complaint (source)

Via my blog last month, WordPress recently changed its policy about how it responds to takedown requests.

Although the blogging platform has built a strong reputation on its principled support for free speech, it now says it 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 severe punishment from their Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The change in policy goes back to March of last year, when a ban on a single blog post led Turkish ISPs to censor all of WordPress in Turkey.

Via this March 20, 2015 tweet, WordPress initially seemed intent on fighting the block…

wordpress-2015-response-to-turkey-censorship

…reaffirming its free speech bonafides via this January 28, 2016 Automattic entry, in which a spokesperson for WordPress stated that, without a U.S. court order, the company “refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey.”

Under our legal guidelines, we require a U.S. court order before proceeding with the removal of content from WordPress.com. To this point, we have refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey. After we receive notice of an order, Turkish ISPs, who are bound to obey the court orders, move to block the sites named in an order, making it unavailable to all visitors from Turkey without any further explanation.

However, last month WordPress admitted to having censored a Turkish political blog after receiving a complaint from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Per this undated Automattic entry, WordPress also recently started implementing blocks on request of Russian authorities, with the stated aim of “protecting all of the other 79 million WordPress.com sites.”

Today, when we receive a takedown demand from RSOC [Roskomnadzor], we review it and will often end up suspending the site in question because of a violation of our Terms of Service (for selling drugs or containing pornography, for example). In cases where the site does not violate our terms, we try to take the most limited and transparent actions available: blocking content so that it is unavailable only in Russia, and blocking only the content specified in the takedown demand (rather than the entire site). We take this action with the goal of protecting all of the other 79 million WordPress.com sites.

It’s possible to find out if WordPress has geo-blocked content in Russia by entering certain URLs – such as the one mentioned in the Roskomnadzor complaint – into a Russian proxy.

If WordPress has blocked the URL in question, you’ll see the following message, a nod to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451:

unavailable-for-legal-reasons-wordpress

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.

And: “WordPress Yields to Putin,” my December 3, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of “Putin-Hitler” mock photo on request of Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor.