The Nanny State: Turkey’s Fight to “Protect” Its Citizens from Twitter

BY MARILYN HARVEY — Tweet, tweet, tweeted. Turkey blocked Twitter shortly after midnight on Friday, March 21, 2014.[i]  Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan led the movement to eradicate Twitter after Twitter proved to be a nuisance to his political campaign. The block has not been completely successful because individuals are finding ways to tweet around the ban (Twitter is still accessible via the site’s SMS service, which allows individuals to tweet via text), but the premise of the ban is what is concerning.[ii] Freedom of expression is a hallmark of any democracy, and Turkey is seriously hindering its citizens’ fundamental rights. Whether or not this is a result of insecurity over the fact Turks in Turkey want to tweet and not gobble is to be determined.

Erdogen has had a tumultuous relationship with Twitter since the protests last year in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.[iii] He believes social media is a “menace” because it allows individuals to spread “lies” (which incidentally harm his political campaign).[iv] Twitter is the mechanism protesters have utilized to organize themselves and fight Turkey’s recent crackdown on freedom of press and expression.[v] In Turkey, around 40 percent of Turkish Internet users are registered on Twitter, so it is a force to be reckoned with.[vi] Not only does the government of Turkey dislike Twitter, YouTube has been blocked before,[vii] and Erdogen has threatened to block Facebook.[viii] He stated, “‘We will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook.’…These people incite any kind of immorality or espionage for profit of these institutions… This kind of “mentality of freedom,” he added, could not be permitted.”[ix]

Erdogen has been accused of being involved in a supposed corruption scandal that he claims is part of a smear campaign led by his political opponents in the final stretch toward the March 30 local elections.[x] Two weeks ago, recordings were released that sounded like Erdogen telling his son to dispose of large sums of money, and Erdogen blamed social media.[xi] Twitter has been the main medium through which those allegations have been spread and has become quite the annoyance to Erdogen. In fact, on Thursday, March 20th, Erdogen is quoted saying, “‘We will wipe out all of these,’… ‘The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is.’”[xii]

Turkey already has very strict Internet laws and has banned more than 40,000 websites.[xiii] A new Internet law, which was passed in February, gives the “state-run Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) [the] the power to shut down websites with “inconvenient and objectionable content” — content that violates privacy — within four hours and without a court ruling.”[xiv] Turkey lauds itself as model of democracy, but such draconian laws shows it really isn’t what it claims to be. In fact, President Abdullah Gul contested Erdogen’s ban via a series of tweets where he stated he hoped “this implementation won’t last long.”[xv] The mechanisms around the block apparently also were blocked on Saturday because instead of continuing to utilize DNS (Domain Name System) redirects, Twitter is now blocked at the IP level.[xvi]

In the meantime, the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey has gone viral, and Turkey is facing pressure from social media and foreign powers to restore access to Twitter.[xvii] Erodogan is carving up freedom of expression like a Thanksgiving turkey. Wonder if this turkey is going to explode in his oven?


















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