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A little over a month ago, I came across a brand new social media site (still in beta) called “Gab” and at first, I was a bit skeptical because rumors were floating around that this was a social media site set up specifically for the “alt-right” movement; however, the journalist in me decided to check Gab out and sign up – the only thing Gab is affiliated with is freedom of expression regardless of what my or any other person’s belief systems are.
According to the CEO and creator of Gab, Andrew Torba the tipping point came when Facebook Trending Topics team was caught suppressing conservative sources and stories in favor of liberal sources and stories. Now, how does this tie in with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan? Simple, President Erdoğan has no influence on Gab nor does he have any power in shutting down free speech on Gab; something this man is notorious for when things are printed about him that he disagrees with – especially the Kurds who are constantly battling him on a daily basis.
In 2013, I was on Skype with a Turkish friend of mine when the Gezi Park Protests were heating up and I distinctly remember him telling me that I should expect a media blackout – he no sooner told me that and I lost connection with him on Skype and soon after, the Turkish media websites (primarily those critical of Erdoğan) went black. This wouldn’t be the first time Erdoğan would try to silence dissenters nor would it be the last.
While Erdoğan does exercise his megalomaniac control from within the confines of the Turkish border, he cannot control the rest of how the world interacts – banning Twitter and Facebook in Turkey does not stop the message getting out to the rest of the world, it just slows it down. Even so, Twitter and Facebook have tightly controlled terms of service with so many rules to abide by that if one sneezes wrong, one might face an automatic suspension or ban from both of those social media platforms.
Enter Andrew Torba and Gab’s co-creator, Ekrem Büyükkaya, technically two polar opposites on the political spectrum but with one common goal – the freedom to express one’s self without the fear of censorship. Censorship, something that the Kurds living in Turkey face whenever atrocities occur that place Erdoğan in a bad light; for instance, the Cizre bombing that killed and injured hundreds of Kurdish civilians (most of the casualties were women and children) came under heavy Turkish censorship as the government forbade any reporting on the bombing that occurred. It was clear to me that Erdoğan was attempting to cover up his ongoing genocide of the Kurds and yet, western media, especially in the United States, hardly touched the story. This is where social media plays such an important role; I would have never come across the story had it not been for RT (previously “Russia Today”) posting it to social media.
Gab is just what the Kurds need to continue to get their message out to the rest of the world without fear of reprisal or censorship as I have no doubt that the op-eds and pieces I wrote on the Kurds were only in front of a limited social media audience on Twitter and Facebook (one piece I wrote has over 22k shares but my pieces on the Kurds barely scratches the surface at 500 shares).
Ultimately, it is the desire to “speak freely” without fear of censorship or favoring one group over another (popular hashtags used on Gab can be found on Twitter: #Gab, #SpeakFreely, and #FreeSpeech). I have no regrets whatsoever about joining this new social media platform and cannot wait for the day when Erdoğan tries in vain to censor it, which is why I’m asking my Kurdish friends and supporters to come over to Gab where the entire Gab family will welcome you all with open arms.
We cannot afford to sacrifice the freedom of speech on the basis of potentially hurting someone’s feelings or hiding the truth of war crimes going on because someone in power demands it. I challenge everyone to read up on Gab and what Andrew and Ekrem have created and give this new social media platform a chance. There’s a quote on the Gab home page by Salman Rushdie:
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
Theresa Giarratano is a retired US Army NCO studying Middle Eastern affairs with special emphasis on global terrorism. Her current status is assisting the Kurdish people by disseminating information regarding the fight against ISIS via social media platforms.