Feature

Turkey: Banning Twitter doesn’t work

In a fit of pique, Turkey’s prime minister moved to shut down public access to Twitter.

Turkey’s prime minister is making a fool of himself, said Asli Aydintasbas in Milliyet (Turkey). In a fit of pique last week, Recep Tayyip Erdogan moved to shut down public access to Twitter, saying the popular social media site had failed to protect the privacy rights of Turks. “We’ll eradicate Twitter,” he promised supporters at a rally. “Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic!” The rant is embarrassing for all of us. Erdogan “is now being viewed by the world as an oppressive autocrat who tries to intimidate his nation with tear gas and censorship.”

All he is really showing is his weakness, said Cihan Celik in Hurriyet. Erdogan has been railing against Twitter and other Internet services for months, angry that protesters were able to use the sites to organize mass demonstrations last summer. In recent weeks, it’s gotten personal. “Clandestine Twitter accounts” have linked to secretly recorded tapes purporting to implicate Erdogan in a huge corruption scandal, so now the prime minister has responded with “a show of force.” But it didn’t work. Millions of Turks—including the president, the deputy prime minister, and the mayor of Ankara—quickly found a work-around and continued to tweet in defiance.

What choice did Erdogan have? said Yasin Aktay in Yeni Safak. The ban is “a natural reaction” to the arrogance Twitter has displayed toward Turkey. When Western countries complain about violations of their laws involving “personal rights, privacy, terrorism, hate crime, child porn, and other sensibilities,” Twitter blocks accounts and removes the offending links. In fact, more than half the requests for action that Twitter fulfills come from the U.S., including plenty from the government. But the social media company simply ignored our court rulings demanding that a certain account be scrubbed. “Twitter doesn’t take Turkey seriously.” Naturally, it fell to Erdogan to “protect our citizens.”

And Erdogan is not quite the social media illiterate his detractors would have him be, said Zeynep Tufekci in Medium.com. In today’s wired world, “information isn’t censorable, and the ruling party in Turkey knows this.” The Twitter ban is not intended to prevent people from sharing information about Erdogan’s corruption cases; it is meant “to demonize social media.” The justification for the ban that the prime minister and his allies keep citing is a court case in which someone impersonated a housewife on Twitter and then distributed pornography purportedly starring her. Erdogan’s supporters portray Twitter as an evil, anti-family force that ignored the plight of the victimized woman. “Look, they say, Erdogan saved her, and will save you too.”Erdogan knows that Turks will hear of the corruption tapes. “But they are now associated with the same source that maligns housewives as porn stars.” The ban on Twitter won’t stop liberal Turks from tweeting. It may, however, persuade Erdogan’s conservative supporters to stop believing what gets tweeted.

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