On Thursday, the Turkish government blocked the country's access to YouTube, after banningTwitter earlier this month, in an effort to quell anti-government sentiment prior to local elections on March 30. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that social networks are facilitating the spread of wiretapped recordings that have been politically damaging. The YouTube block reportedly came about after a video surfaced of government officials discussing the possibility of going to war with Syria.The government officially banned Twitter after the network refused to take down an account accusing a former minister of corruption. Twitter is challenging the ban and a Turkish court overturned it on Wednesday, but it's not yet clear how an appeal might play out.
Turkey is hardly the first country to crack down on social unrest by going after social networks. There are at least six other countries currently blocking Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter in some capacity (see map below), and many more have instituted temporary blocks over the last couple of years. Here's everything you need to know:
China: China blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in 2009. The Twitter and Facebook bans took place after a peaceful protest by Uighurs, China's Muslim ethnic minority, broke into deadly riots in Xinjiang. In September 2013, the government decided to stop censoring foreign websites in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, a 17-square-mile area in mainland China, but these social networks are still largely blocked nationwide.
Iran: Iran has blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on and off (usually off) since they were banned in 2009 following Iran's contentious presidential election.
Vietnam: Over the last couple of years, there have been widespread reports of Facebook being blocked in Vietnam. The block is fairly easy to bypass, and many Vietnamese citizens use the social network. However, in September 2013, Vietnam passed a law prohibiting citizens from posting anti-government content on the social network. Facebook did not comment on access in Vietnam.
Pakistan: In September 2012, Pakistan blocked YouTube after the site reportedly refused to take down an anti-Islam video that sparked protests in the country. The block has continued through March 2014, according to Google.
North Korea: Internet access is highly restricted in North Korea.
Eritrea: According to Reporters Without Borders, in 2011, two of the country's major internet service providers blocked YouTube. Freedom House, a US watchdog that conducts research on political freedom, said the site was blocked in its 2013 report and notes, "The government requires all internet service providers to use state-controlled internet infrastructure." Eritrea is routinely listed as one of the most censored countries in the world. Google does not include Eritrea on its list of countries in its transparency report that currently block YouTube, but notes that the list "is not comprehensive" and may not include partial blocks. (Update, 3/31: Since this article came out, some users familiar with Eritrea have said that the site is not blocked, but instead, often inaccessible due to lack of bandwidth. A spokesperson for Freedom House, which found that the site was blocked when investigators put together the 2013 report, said that, "Since Eritrea has one of the worst infrastructures in Africa, it is possible that some ISPs deliberately block services that require a lot of bandwidth, to allow other traffic to be more stable." He also noted that the government's poor human rights record indicates that the inaccessibility of YouTube could be related to censorship.)
Outside of these current blocks, many governments have banned social-media networks in the past, during periods of unrest. Here's a brief history of notable incidents:
Since 2009, Google has counted 16 disruptions to YouTube in 11 regions, often in the wake of protests. In March 2009, Bangladesh blocked YouTube for four days after someone posted a video of a meeting between army officers and the Prime Minister that revealed unrest in the military. Bangladesh blocked the network again for an extended period between 2012 and 2013 over an anti-Islam video. Libya blockedYouTube (and other social networks) for 574 days between 2010 and 2011, after the site hosted videos depicting families of prisoners killed in Abu Salim prison demonstrating in Benghazi, according to Human Rights Watch. Syria blocked YouTube (as well as Facebook) for about three years, lifting the ban in February 2011. Tajikistan has blocked YouTube more than once, most recently in 2013, over a video of the president dancing. Afghanistan blocked YouTube for 113 days between September 2012 and January 2013, after fears that an anti-Islam film on the site would spark further riots. Here's how Google depicts the Afghanistan ban:
Twitter, which was used as a tool to organize protests during the Arab Spring, was shut down partially or completely by several governments in the region in 2011, including Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Cameroon, and Malawi, according to the OpenNet Initiative. Belarus has also blocked major social networks, including Twitter, in 2011 to quell anti-government protests. That same year, when a series of riots swept the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to ban people from using social-networking sites, including Twitter and Facebook, although he didn't go through with it. Targeting specific users or pages is more common than complete bans on Twitter—South Korea, for example, blocked access to North Korea's official Twitter account in 2010 on the basis that it contained "illegal information." When it's clear that a certain Tweet or user is only being blocked in a select country, Twitter flags it as "Country Withheld Content."
Facebook was also temporarily blocked by several countries during the Arab Spring. In 2010, Pakistan temporarily blocked Facebook after it hosted a competition called, "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day," which collected about 200 entries. Myanmar has sporadically blocked Facebook; China claims the ban was lifted there in 2013. There have also been instances where governments have blocked fake individual pages pretending to belong to world leaders. In 2008, Morocco went so far as to arrest a man for creating a profile posing as Prince Moulay Rachid. So far, Turkey has not yet chosen to censor Facebook, but that might simply be because it's not on the prime minister's radar. "What is this thing called Twitter, anyway?" Erdogan said Tuesday on NTV, a privately owned Turkish news channel. "It is a company, involved in communication, social media, etc."
In October 2012, four assailants allegedly kidnapped a California pot dispensary owner and drove him out to the desert, where they believed he was hiding the proceeds of his successful marijuana business. There was no cash to be found, but, in a bid to make the businessman talk, the would-be-robbers burned him with a blow torch and then cut off his penis, driving away with it so that it couldn't be surgically reattached.
So far 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, but with the rise of the legal pot business has come a wave of robberies and other crimes targeting pot dispensaries and their owners. The purveyors of legal pot are a major crime magnet, in part because they largely operate on a cash-only basis. And that's due to the fact that most banks and credit card firms refuse to work with these businesses for fear of being prosecuted under federal law, where the sale of pot remains illegal. Last month, the Obama administration issued new guidelines aimed at making banks feel more at ease in providing services to legal marijuana businesses. But the administration stopped short of promising immunity, so for now most financial firms are steering clear.
That leaves many potrepreneurs to handle large amounts of cash—and fearful for their safety. "Everyone in the industry is having nightmares," Michael Elliot, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, recently told NBC. So perhaps it's fitting then that the idea for PotCoin—a new digital currency, akin to bitcoin, that's being marketed to legal marijuana businesses—came to "MrJones" in a dream.
Since Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA is scooping up the phone records of law-abiding Americans in bulk, the program has had a stalwart defender in Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). She has supported the program's continuation as recently as last week, criticized a judge who ruled it may be unconstitutional, and pushed a bill through the Senate Intelligence Committee to codify its existence, with some reforms. But now, her bill may be dead in the water. Late Monday, news broke that President Obama is expected to propose ending the program as it currently exists. In response, Feinstein issued the following statement:
"I believe the president’s plan is a worthy effort. I have said before that I am open to reforming the call records program as long as any changes meet our national security needs and address privacy concerns, and that any changes continue to provide the government with the means to protect against future terrorist attack."
The way the bulk collection program works now, the NSA systematically collects metadata from the phone calls of millions of Americans. (Metadata, which includes phone numbers and call dates, is highly revealing, but it doesn't detail the contents of conversations.) The NSA retains that data for five years. According to the New York Times, the Administration's new proposal will recommend that phone companies hold onto this data instead of the NSA. Phone companies are only required to retain this data for 18 months. In order to get specific records, the NSA will have to get permission from a judge. In January, civil liberties advocates toldMother Jones that they considered ending the bulk collection program a top priority in reforming NSA surveillance.
Last week, Feinstein said she would consider reforms to the bulk collection program that "preserve the operational effectiveness of the call records program," but said it should continue. In December, when DC District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA's phone collection program was likely illegal, calling it, "almost Orwellian," Feinstein quickly denounced the ruling. "Those of us who support the call records program do so with a sincere belief that it, along with other programs, is constitutional and helps keep the country safe from attack," she wrote.
She also introduced the FISA Improvements Act which was quickly approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee in October 2013. The bill would require more public reporting and court review, while codifying the program's existence, largely in its current form. More than 50 civil liberties and public interest organizations signed a letter opposing the bill in December.
But thanks to Obama's new announcement, Feinstein's proposal may be dead in the water: "Senator Feinstein’s FISA reform bill is a nonstarter now that the President has confirmed his commitment to end the bulk collection program," says Alan Butler, the appellate advocacy counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. In contrast, two other bills—the USA FREEDOM Act and the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act, which was introduced on Tuesday by Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.)—would both end the bulk collection program in its current form. Feinstein said on Tuesday she plans to schedule a hearing on both the president’s proposal and the new bill from the House Intelligence Committee.
On Tuesday, Glenn Greenwald, writing for the Intercept, harshly criticized "pro-NSA Democrats" for following Obama in his support for NSA surveillance. "They have spent the last 10 months defending the NSA (i.e., defending Obama) by insisting that the NSA metadata program is both reasonable and necessary to Keep Us Safe™," he wrote. Earlier this month, Snowden called Feinstein hypocritical for continuing to support NSA surveillance while denouncing the CIA for searching Senate Intelligence Committee computers. "Suddenly it's a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them," he said.
Alaska state Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, announced last week that he wants to use state funds to supply bars with pregnancy tests to help combat the state's epidemic of fetal alcohol syndrome. But Kelly told the Anchorage Daily News he would not support the same measure for birth control, noting that "birth control is for people who don't necessarily want to act responsibly." Kelly, who came under fire for his remarks by Democrats, took to the Senate floor Monday to elaborate on why he doesn't think birth control is an effective way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome:
If you have people who are binge drinking or chronic drinkers, we're hesitant to say 'use birth control as your protection against fetal alcohol syndrome,' because again, as I say, binge drinking is a problem...If you think you can take birth control and then binge drink and hope not to produce a [baby with fetal alcohol syndrome] you may be very wrong. Sometimes these things don’t work. Sometimes people forget, sometimes they administer birth control improperly and you might produce a fetal alcohol syndrome baby. That would be irresponsible of us until we get better information on that to say that well, maybe that is a good idea.
When reached by Mother Jones, Kelly said "it's fine for women [both married and unmarried] to use contraceptives," but he reiterated that "people forget, people administer contraception incorrectly, and sometimes the methods simply fail." He said that if contraceptive measures are found to be effective at reducing fetal alcohol syndrome, lawmakers could pursue using state funds to offer them as well. He did not elaborate on whether he would personally support this, although he told the Anchorage Daily News last week that he would not.
Medical experts say that, in fact, relying on birth control to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is an excellent idea. The Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Center says that in order to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, women should "use birth control until [they] are able to quit drinking" and "avoid heavy drinking when not using birth control." The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that social workers advise women who are likely to drink if they become pregnant to use birth control.
At the Senate session, Kelly expressed dismay over how people have fixated on his birth control comments. "Because it got kind of caught up in the blogosphere, it got turned into something like a war on women or something like that. That's not important. What is important...are these pregnancy tests kiosks," he said. In a Facebook post earlier this week, he criticized Democrats for "turning his attempt to deal with the tragedy of FASD [fetal alcohol syndrome] into such disgusting politics."
“Pete Kelly’s going all out with the War on Women, but from his defensive comments it looks like Alaska women may be winning,” Kay Brown, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, said in a press release on Monday.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is a devastating problem in Alaska, so state Senate Finance Committee co-chairman Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, has made it his personal mission to stamp it out. This week, in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, he described the ways he plans to clamp down on the problem, including spending "a lot of money" on media campaigns and providing publicly funded pregnancy tests in Alaska's bars and restaurants, so that women will be discouraged from shooting whiskey if they find out they're pregnant. But make no mistake: Kelly is not interested in providing state-funded birth control in public places. He says that "birth control is for people who don't necessarily want to act responsibly" and that would amount to "social engineering."
Providing pregnancy tests in bars isn't an entirely new concept. In 2012, a pub in Minnesota got national attention for installing a vending machine that dispensed pregnancy tests at $3 a pop—but the tests weren't state-funded. Kelly envisions the government contracting with a nonprofit to make the tests widely available at places that serve alcohol. As he explains, "So if you're drinking, if you're out at the big birthday celebration and you're kind of like, 'Gee, I wonder if I…?' You can just go in the bathroom and there should be a plastic, Plexiglas bowl in there, and that's part of the public relations campaign, too. You're going to have some kind of card on there with a message."
The interviewer asked Kelly whether he would also support offering state-funded birth control in bars. Alaska does not accept federal money from the government's Medicaid expansion, which would fund contraception, and state Sen. Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River) recently spoke out against it, declaring that if people can afford lattes, they can afford birth control. In response to the birth control question posed by Anchorage Daily News, Kelly said he wouldn't support it:
No, because the thinking is a little opposite. This assumes that if you know, you'll act responsibly. Birth control is for people who don't necessarily want to act responsibly. That's—I'm not going to tell them what to do, or help them do it, that's their business. But if we have a pregnancy test, because someone just doesn't know. That's probably a way we can help them.
When the interviewer pointed out that using birth control could be seen as being responsible, Kelly replied: "Maybe, maybe not. That's a level of social engineering that we don't want to get into. All we want to do is make sure that people are informed and they'll make the right decision." He then said that lawmakers would consider, down the road, discussing involuntarily commitment if someone "is damning [her] child to a lifetime of mental problems and physical problems." But he added, "We haven't gone down that road far enough to make a decision."