That’s what could be read on Twitter on March 21, when the Turkish government shut this social media platform down. It was Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who forecasted this action in one of his speeches. One shouldn’t think it’s possible, but this actually happened in Turkey: No citizen was allowed to use the webpage of the public platform to tweet about what happens in their lives or their country. Although the ban is lifted by now, this was a tragic moment for the freedom of speech, and this event gave us a short view into a dark vision of the future.
There are countries that still heavily control the citizens’ use of social media. What if more leading characters decided to take the path of what is called the closed internet? It would mean that third parties can interfere with our actions on the net, and that they can restrict which information reach us, and which don’t. For me, this sounds outright dystopian, and therefore portrays the biggest challenge for the Web in the future: To maintain its present degree of openness, while expanding it at the same time. We must not take a step backwards now. It’s not only about a few days without access to Twitter, but about our right to say what we want to say.
The issue of an open internet is closely connected to the concept of universal design, which was coined by Ronald L. Mace. He, as an architect, aimed at creating an environment that can be used and accessed by everyone, no matter what their physical or psychological characteristics are. The notion tended to focus on people with disabilities, in order to insure the equality between human beings – everybody should have the same chances, and a similar starting point to act from.
Now, can we say that the people of Turkey were robbed of their right to accessibility? I am pretty sure that many people would answer this question with a fierce No (Prime Minister Erdogan, for example), and would argue that this had to be done to keep the safety in the country instead. But, of course, one could argue differently. One could also claim that social media don’t threaten the safety of a country, but rather threaten ideas that are too shaky to withstand the constant criticism of the users of the Web.
The main challenge for the Web is to ensure the accessibility of space for everyone. Because this is the space that makes change, development, and criticism possible. And we need those factors badly, because we’ll find ourselves in a cage soon enough without them. Whether physical or intellectual cage, I don’t know – I just hope we are not already on the verge to turn the key from the inside. When I say it is the main challenge for the Web, I mean that it is in fact our challenge. We make the Web, and we are shaped by it in turn. Make it a place open for everyone, regardless of their geographical, political or social background!