Much of the news we hear about regarding the banning of technologies or websites has to do with “user created content.” In the 20th century, it wasn’t possible for just anyone to publish for a global audience. Today, however, that act is now possible for anyone with a modicum of literacy and access to an Internet-connected computer. Last week’s CNN article, “Turkey blocks YouTube over video” is another example of this trend:

A Turkish court has ordered access to YouTube’s Web site blocked because of videos allegedly insulting the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Paul Doany, head of Turk Telekom, Turkey’s largest telecommunications provider, said his company had immediately begun enforcing the ban.

“We are not in the position of saying that what YouTube did was an insult, that it was right or wrong,” Doany said Wednesday in remarks to the state-run Anatolia news agency. “A court decision was proposed to us, and we are doing what that court decision says.”

Visitors to the YouTube site from Turkey were greeted with the message: “Access to this site has been blocked by a court decision!…”

If you’re not familiar with Ataturk, the closest analogy I can make for those familiar with U.S. history is to say: Imagine George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln combined as one person. Ataturk is revered in Turkey, and defamation of him is taken very seriously. According to the same article, “Insulting Ataturk or “Turkishness” is a crime in Turkey punishable by prison.”

These issues of contentious Youtube videos being posted go beyond insults to Ataturk, however, and involve people on both sides of the Aegean– as well as Turks and Greeks living elsewhere in the world and connected to the web:

Over the past week, Turkish media publicized what some called a “virtual war” between Greeks and Turks on YouTube, with people from both sides posting videos to belittle and berate the other.

The video prompting the ban allegedly said Ataturk and the Turkish people were homosexuals, news reports said.

A simple keyword search on Youtube tonight for “Ataturk” turns up almost 5000 videos. While many of the titles and descriptions are not in English, those that are reveal both pro and anti-Ataturk positions. The video “THE HERO ATATURK / KAHRAMAN ATATURK” may be representative of the pro-Ataturk view. I found it interesting that among other musical tracks, the author used some stirring (and copyrighted, of course) music from soundtrack of the 2003 movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.” I had never heard the audio recording of U.S. President John F. Kennedy praising Ataturk before, and found it particularly haunting to realize he said those words just 12 days before he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. This is a good piece of digital storytelling, but I would recommend to the director (22 year old Koray Dusunceli of Ege University in Izmir, Turkey) that the musical track be muted or at least ratcheted down quite a bit during the speech by JFK.


As Lawrence Lessig and Pamela Samuelson related in their 2003 panel discussion “Public Life in a Wired World” at Stanford, more content considered “offensive” or “objectionable” is making its way onto the web because many more people are online today than were in the early years of the Internet. As more people go online and spend increasing amounts of time there, it is natural for the virtual world and the discussions which take place there (as well as arguments) to better reflect the “real” face-to-face world.

Conflicts between the peoples of Turkey and Greece go back a long time. (Check out WikiPedia articles on Cyprus and even the Peloponnesian war for more reading on some of those issues.) It should come as no surprise that as more Greeks and Turks come online, long-running debates and arguments will have an increasingly digital face.

User-created content IS a disruptive influence in many respects. Yet, it is something organizations as well as individuals need to get used to. User-created digital content on the web is NOT going to go away, it is likely to continue to increase exponentially in the years ahead. So what are we to do? A few basics are:

  1. Emphasize the development of critical literacies, critical thinking, and media literacies at all levels: Inside and outside of schools.
  2. Emphasize the respectful and ethical uses of digital technologies (as well as other analog tools) to constructively inform and build bridges, rather than belittle, insult, or otherwise hurt others.
  3. Provide students in schools with graduated access to less restrictive computing environments, where documentation and accountability is preserved but students have more freedom to make choices about their uses of digital content and tools.

We need to be preparing students for ethical and constructive lives outside the school firewall and the hopefully watchful eyes of parents at home. This is a difficult proposition which school leaders, parents, and even national leaders continue to have difficulty embracing.

I think this is Koray’s blog site, which I found by doing a Technorati search for the same personal tag he used in one of his Youtube self-portrait videos. I wish Google or Altavista’s Babelfish translators supported Turkish to English, and vice versa! Maybe that is coming in a future version…

How amazing that I’ve just been influenced by the thoughts and creative work of a 22 year old Turkish student living in Izmir, Turkey. The world is flat. The impacts of that reality are difficult for most of us to process, relate to and deal with.


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