Citizen journalism focused independent non-profit news organization dokuz8NEWS operating in Istanbul/Turkey has been suspended on popular social media platform Twitter. The news organization has been showing efforts to combine dynamism of citizen journalism and the experience of professional journalism since its foundation in 2014, and has gained visibility as a result of the need for citizens both to circulate news about their own struggle for human and environmental rights, and to access reliable, verified and accurate news, both locally and globally. The account suspension has targeted the news organization only 3 days before it operates an extensive coverage of Istanbul Elections in Turkey, mobilizing thousands of people across the city.
In May 2019, dokuz8NEWS has received four notices concerning the American legislation Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) which protects copyright for published material on digital platforms. As a result, on June 12, 2019 a final warning has been issued concerning repetitive copyright infringement. While dokuz8NEWS affiliates had been discussing how to proceed regarding this matter and clearing content that might cause another warning and trigger a complete suspension from the global social media platform, another independent news organization @ilerihaber’s twitter account was suspended.
COPYRIGHT VIOLATION OF NEWSWORTHY MATERIAL
Ileri Haber had published an article which was supported with a short video content regarding islamist theologist who supports marriage with minors. The video content that caused @ilerihaber account to be suspended was an excerpt from Yıldız’s speech in support of marrying little children. Ileri Haber’s Can Soyer says “when someone gives a comment to support marrying children, this is news material and would be on headlines anywhere. No one can consider this in terms of ‘private content and copyrighted material’. History of journalism is full of such cases being revealed to public and our profession will continue creating more examples of this kind of behaviour.” Soyer adds that Yıldız has previously taken Ileri Haber to court and has attempted to get content taken down multiple times, however the news organization has been acquitted in the trial; which led Yıldız to seek another measure: to use Twitter’s copyright infringement clause and get the platform shut down.
Nurettin Yıldız’s video is not a private one; it is from a speech he is making to the public. It is not filmed secretly and does not violate the speaker’s privacy. The most recent content removal request has come to the news article with the headline “do not speak to atheists or you may become one too”. While Yıldız continues to keep his speech up on his YouTube account, he is attempting to get the video removed from news organizations’s social media channels which reaches millions of readers.
INDEPENDENT MEDIA AT RISK DUE TO COPYRIGHT NOTICES
Ileri Haber’s Soyer continues to explain how they believe the process works, “this is not an isolated case; just another example of what many news organizations are experiencing recently. It seems like Twitter’s user settings and content applications are being conducted through algorithms and although algorithm is analyzing the content, it is not possible to realize whether or not there was news material or satire intended when one shares the same content. Just like anywhere else around the world, Twitter is a popular platform for Turkish news organizations as well. Under these circumstances, it is obvious that the relationship between copyright and news publications must be handled in caution in order not to cause damages for either side; yet it is also obvious that this process cannot be handled through algorithms. For that reason I can say that Twitter should also take into consideration the concerns of news platforms as well as copyright holders in order not to violate millions of readers’ right to information.”
Soyer also calls on Twitter to consider independent news organizations’ concerns, “news is news; but when one takes over original content and copies or shares it for profit, this is something else, not news. And this would be breach of copyright agreement. Twitter must realize the difference between the two; but currently they are only hearing the side of the copyright holders and causing a hard time for journalism which is a public issue. They are not only causing us a hard time but also our readers and millions of citizens who all have right to information.”
DOKUZ8NEWS SUSPENDED AFTER DMCA TAKEDOWN NOTICE
Following the final warning on June 12, dokuz8NEWS has taken down any content that could be used to trigger another DMCA takedown notice. Similar to @ilerihaber‘s case, the content that caused the final warning for dokuz8NEWS -for the news network- had a different meaning than the original content provider. At Madrid Open Tennis Tournament during the game between Federer and Gasquet in the audience there were two Turkish spectators who shouted main opposition CHP candidate for Istanbul Elections, Ekrem Imamoğlu’s slogan which was taken over by dokuz8NEWS to be incorporated into its Istanbul Elections coverage.
dokuz8NEWS is not a sports network, nor is it regularly publishing sports news. dokuz8NEWS operates in the field of media through conducting citizen journalism and publishing news in Turkish and English, offering trainings, organising forums & conferences, conducting research. Since its foundation one of the primary roles of dokuz8NEWS has been to report on irregularities & violations in campaigning process & election safety. Moreover, in the last year dokuz8NEWS has also expanded its activities to cover mobile video journalism, data journalism as well as regional media.
However, when two tennis spectators chant a political slogan during a game, this becomes newsworthy for any news organization and should not be limited to copyright as it is the journalists & editors’ duty to inform the society on these developments.
MULTIPLE COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT COMPLAINTS
Other complaints targeting dokuz8NEWS includes a rather older video of a 9 year old boy with down syndrome who is passionately singing Whitney Houston’s “I have nothing” in a vehicle. The video is still available on multiple platforms and many news organizations’ social media channels. However the rights-holders to the song, Sony Music Entertainment has filed a complaint asking for the “song” to be taken down from dozens of twitter accounts, including @dokuz8haber. As this video included a song playing in the background while the little boy was singing, the algorithm would have caught it up and taken down the content, which presents a risk factor in terms of online culture & creativity through suppression of reproductive content.
Next complaint has been filed about a Netflix video, promoting the series that aired on May 10, “The Society”. This Netflix series’ trainer has Billie Eilish’s “bury a friend” song playing partly in the background. Ideally, in order for Netflix to use this song in the series, the necessary rights would have to be bought from the Universal Music Publishing Group UMPG and then this video would be forwarded to other media organizations in order to access wide readership. In this case, UMPG has issued a request to Twitter demanding taking down dozens of accounts’ content that shared this video, again including @dokuzhaber.
TURKEY’S POOR TWITTER RECORD
Turkey has been the top country in filing content removal requests to social media platforms over the last 5 years. Most recently, Twitter has announced its Transparency Report on the country-specific content removal requests filed in the second half of 2018, where Turkey and Russia combined have filed 74% of the total global volume of all requests. The report also suggests in addition, requests from countries other than Turkey increased by approximately 90% since the first half of 2018, showing globalization of the problem.
While we at dokuz8NEWS have been unsuccessfully applying for the blue tick of verified accounts, Twitter states 253 accounts of verified journalists and news outlets were the subject of 146 legal demands; three Tweets were removed for violations of Twitter’s TOS, and three Tweets and one account were withheld in Turkey due to violations of Turkish anti-terrorism laws. They also announce that Twitter filed legal objections for court orders from Turkey that involved journalists or news outlets, arguing that those decisions may be contrary to the protection of freedom of press. In the meantime we still believe that long-denied verification of our news platform could have saved us from some of the problems already.
TURKEY’S DEMANDS REVOLVING AROUND CENSORSHIP
Turkey’s Constitutional Court had ruled against blocking access to social media platforms through a blanket-ban before, however Turkish government had then applied throttling practices, bypassing the ruling of the court. Today Twitter takes DMCA in the United States as basis of protection of copyright, and this turns independent media’s social media accounts into a target through systematic complaints. There is no guarantee that dozens of independent media accounts, or even significant individual accounts would not be suspended and censored in the early hours of June 23 Istanbul Elections morning, based on this reason. Turkey is already a country with bad record when it comes to government-related censorship. Dokuz8HABER is one of the few remaining independent news outlets in Turkey which operates on social-first principle using Twitter as its primary medium, and for the health of political conversation in Turkey in upcoming elections.
ELECTION AGENDA & SUSPENSION OF CRITICAL ACCOUNTS
When the first DMCA takedown notice was received, it was generally considered to be an isolated case where the algorithm could have caught an unlucky video containing a copyrighted song in the background. Yet, the suspension of accounts for both @ilerihaber and @dokuz8haber have come only days before Istanbul Elections, which is repetition of March 31 Municipal Elections in Turkey after opposition parties have made major gains and few remaining independent news organizations have been influential in informing the society on developments.
It has to be mentioned that representatives of the two news organizations have filed official objections to Twitter and requested full reinstatement of both accounts. However, seeing how long the process has already been taking for @ilerihaber extending over a week, it seems unlikely that the election agenda will already be over by the time any meaningful action is taken regarding these platforms.
One of the most significant citizen-focused news platforms, dokuz8NEWS which has almost 200K followers on Twitter and millions of readers, with hundreds of citizen journalists across the country and dozens of regional media organizations as its partners will for sure not stay quiet in the face of this censorship attempt. dokuz8NEWS will continue its publications based on accurate, reliable and verified information; and will mobilize its network for extensive coverage of Istanbul Elections on June 23, through hard work of hundreds of thousands of observers, thousands of correspondents, hundreds of contacts in Istanbul’s all 39 districts to make sure election safety measures are met.
Since the day it has been founded in March 2014, with its experience in establishing Election Watch Network, dokuz8NEWS will never let its readers be left without news.
Until dokuz8NEWS’ flagship account is reinstated, you may continue reading dokuz8NEWS’ coverage on @dokuz8secim
INTERNATIONAL REACTION AGAINST TWITTER’S SUSPENSION OF DOKUZ8NEWS
Following DMCA takedown notices and eventual suspension of dokuz8NEWS’ main Twitter account @dokuz8haber, many international organizations including Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe OSCE’s Representative for Freedom of the Media, International Press Institute IPI, Article 19, Freedom House, PEN Norway, European Centre for Press & Media Freedom ECPMF and Reporters Without Borders RSF have called for reinstatement of the account. Prominent journalists from Turkey as well as Europe have called on to Twitter to reverse the decision of suspending the account, drawing attention to the news organization’s crucial role in Istanbul Elections which is to take place on June 23.
Following suspension of @dokuz8haber account on Twitter, following reactions and dokuz8NEWS’s counter-statements, the account has been reinstated on Twitter after an 18 hour closure. dokuz8NEWS announced gratitude for all the solidarity & support shown by international press freedom organizations, readers and friends. Shortly after dokuz8NEWS, @ilerihaber’s account has also been reinstated.
— OSCE media freedom (@OSCE_RFoM) 20 June 2019
— IPI (@globalfreemedia) 20 June 2019
— ARTICLE 19 ECA (@article19europe) 20 June 2019
— Nate Schenkkan (@nateschenkkan) 20 June 2019
The Turkish news organization @dokuz8HABER‘s account has just been suspended by @Twitter based on coyright violations complaints. This happens 3 days before #IstanbulElections. Coincidence? Hardly, this is a restriction of internet freedom. https://t.co/lJhsYivCdU
— Norsk PEN (@norsk_pen) 20 June 2019
.@dokuz8HABER‘s @Twitter account was suspended based on copyright violation complaints. #Socialmedia remains a major channel for dissemination in #Turkey. Just three days before the renewed election in #Istanbul this is a restriction of internet freedom! https://t.co/o32A8iXwIG
— ECPMF (@ECPMF) 20 June 2019
RSF temsilcisi Erol Önderoğlu: @Twitter bir içerikten tüm bir medya hesabına engel getirmek gibi yıllardır eleştirdiğimiz pratiğe ortak olmamalıdır. Türkiye’de bunca idari & yargı sansürü varken böylesi bir müdahaleye ihtiyaç yoktu. Yeniden @dokuz8haber ‘e erişim istiyoruz! pic.twitter.com/LCFynnZOlW
— RSF Türkçe (@RSF_tr) 20 June 2019