Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Off Switch

Something happened in Turkey today. Never mind what. Could've been anything.
Wanna talk about it?
You can't. Just like that. In fact, you can't talk about anything.

Buried halfway through Wikipedia's rapidly-accumulating pages of summary on the event lies (if certainly not the most urgent) the most wide-reaching issue with the whole mess. One measly line:

"The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) announced a temporary ban on all press coverage of the bombings following a request by the Prime Ministry. Restrictions on social media platforms Twitter and Facebook were enforced within two hours of the attack."

This is not some tiny illiterate jungle-choked South-American village controlled by a dozen-strong machete-toting junta. Turkey is a NATO country. Nor is this a specifically Turkish problem or the first or last time the net neutrality issue has cropped up all over the world, and unfortunately the bigger issue of censorship has begun causing such fatigue in the public that we gloss over it as a mere footnote. We learn to count ourselves lucky: at least the aristocracy's not literally cutting out tongues anymore. The yoke grows comfortable.

There will always be bombings, assassinations, riots, wars and scandals, anywhere and everywhere, so long as the human species remains human. Censoring the fourth estate is its own can of worms, but holds a certain internal logic. Mass-media outlets are power structures with their own interests, tools of the rich just as governments and industries are, and quite apt to simply exploit any event to increase their own power. That's vertical communication though, distribution of messages by various factions among the power elite to the lower classes.

The much bigger issue here is horizontal communication, speech between individuals. I despise Twitter and Facebook and do not even bother using them but as they have become such vital tools of interpersonal contact in the modern world, an attack on them is an attack on basic human social life. With the flick of a switch, the rich and powerful decree that communication shall cease, for whatever pretext, anytime it suits them. This is the information-age equivalent of curfews and house arrest, martial law by the terabyte.

It may be just a footnote to the event as a whole but footnotes often prove more historically relevant.

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