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Istanbul media blackout
via Twitter

Turkey blocks Twitter, Facebook and news sites after attack

Following an airport bombing, the country has issued a complete media ban

A suicide bombing in Istanbul’s main airport has left 41 dead and more than 200 injured.

Reports say that Isis is behind the horrific attack, which began with gunfire and ended with three suicide bombs in Atatürk airport. The Istanbul governor’s office confirmed 23 Turks were among the dead.

In the hours following the attack, the Turkish government deployed one of their better-known tactics in the aftermath of terrorism, as they blocked access to social media platforms and issued a gag order to news sites within the country.

The Turkish Prime Minister’s office has issued the ban on any images or film surrounding the attack, due to “national security and public order”. Anything that shares information about suspects or shows the scene, wounded, the dead or continuing emergency work has been banned to deter an “exaggerated narrative”.

The Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) initially issued the ruling, and later, the Istanbul court extended it from “all news, interviews, and visuals regarding the incident,” to include “any written and visual media, digital media outlets, or social media.” From there, Twitter and Facebook were blocked.

Images, filming or reporting around the attack were blocked to avoid aggravating “fear and panic, which may serve to the intentions of terrorist groups,” and even “may harm society as a whole” a statement said.

Alp Toker of TVHI Media and Turkey Blocks, an organization mapping the country’s censorship, told CTV News: “This is the tenth explosion in recent times to strike Turkey, we’ve seen through most of these explosions attacks that Turkey censors the media, blocks access to social media and internet sites following attacks. It seems to cause a lot of distress from what we see, as people use social media and the Internet to get information about friends and loved ones.

It’s caused a lot of pain…it seems to be a measure to protect the decency and also the country’s reputation, in some sense, because it’s very bad media and press for the country according to government lines. We’ve seen that this does more harm than good, today Facebook, Twitter and Youtube were blocked about two hours after the attack and have been since, so it’s really a blackout, adding confusion and making it more of a terror incident in a way.”

Toker also pointed to the country’s strict laws surrounding criticism directed at the government and president, and as “a country that isn’t particularly good at dealing with criticism”, he says the Turkish government tries to protect its reputation with media and social blackouts. When social platforms don’t comply, there’s a major shutdown.

In 2015, Turkey updated an “Internet law” which gave ministers the ability to ban internet content to do with “national security and public order”. Images of a public prosecutor taken hostage meant there was a mass media blackout. Another bomb attack on Suruc students triggered an order to remove any media responses from Turkey on the attack.

Deputy foreign minister Hassan Qashqavi said: “No matter where the terror comes from, our country is strong enough to fight against this terror. I call on every citizen to act in unity and stand by each other.”

Other cities which have suffered terrorist attacks, such as Brussels and Paris, have made use of social media as a source for sharing important information and tracking loved ones. The Facebook check-in feature was lauded as a vital tool during the Paris attacks in particular, when phone lines became difficult to use and embassies were swamped with requests.

Since 2011, the government has implemented 150 media bans. However, the negative side affects have, according to reports, made life difficult for those involved in the attacks. Since the recent bombing, Red Cross and Turkish airlines have, according to Vocativ, been sharing information on Twitter.