Why did Turkey block Wikipedia?

At the tail end of April 2017, Turkey blocked Wikipedia.

And in a typically meta twist, Wikipedia turned it around and created a Wikipedia article about the Wikipedia block in Turkey.

To explain their decision, Turkish officials allege that Wikipedia was participating in a “coordinated smear campaign” against Turkey. (It’s worth noting, however, that those same officials neglected to cite specific articles that Turkey views as problematic.)

Unsurprisingly, this less than satisfactory explanation engendered some dismay. The New York Times characterized the block as a “crackdown on dissent and free expression”. Techcrunch attributed the block to the failed July coup in 2016.

For me, perhaps the most compelling aspect of this story is that Erdogan’s government blocked Wikipedia, but social media is still alive and well in Turkey. If Turkey is, in fact, cracking down on free expression, it seems contradictory to shut Wikipedia down but allow the Turkish people to participate in social media activities.

No, more than that. It seems unintelligent. It seems downright foolish.

So I want to slow it down, take a step back, and discuss what it is about Wikipedia that is so threatening that Turkey blocked it entirely, while still leaving social channels wide open.

Wikipedia: a characterization

Wikipedia launched and continues to propagate the democratization of factual information. There are a lot of World Book salesmen out of a job in 2017 because, thanks to Wikipedia, the World Book is a relic. People will not pay for an encylopedia full of knowledge if that knowledge is free.

Wikipedia believes that “access to information is a fundamental human right”. It contains objective information, and objective information only. There is no steering the conversation in Wikipedia, because there is no conversation. Wikipedia is all about the facts.

Which leads us to the real question:

Why are facts so threatening?

They’re not. Facts themselves are not threatening. The real threat to organizations and to governments is what people do with facts.

They form opinions.

Opinions drive decisions.

Opinions drive actions.

Opinions drive change.

In effect, Wikipedia helps drive decisions and change by providing the people — ALL of the people — with objective, factually correct information.

Information that leads to opinions that lead to decisions that lead to change threaten the status quo. And the status quo must not be threatened in a dictatorial government.

I will allege that all governing bodies are hiding something, and that every government is concerned about the next Wikileaks release. There is a vast difference, however, between governments that broadly define themselves on principles of freedom and opportunity versus those that heavily curate the messages that their people receive, and clearly demarcate the line between privilege and disadvantage.

Turkey is trying to avoid change. Turkey wants the current dictatorial government to succeed. Turkey needs to be able to order their people to follow orders “because I said so”.

In Wikipedia, if you try to add a slant to some information, if you try to remove facts, if you try to add something that’s not true, the (borderline insane) community of editors will be on you so fast, your typing fingers will spin. Indoctrination via Wikipedia is certainly not an option.

Wikipedia represents the antithesis of “because I said so”.

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.