Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan ordered access to Twitter to be cut off for citizens in the early hours of Friday, March 21st. The shutdown came just a few hours after Erdogan publically threatened to cut off access to the social media platform, calling it a ‘scourge’ and claiming it is being used against him by his political enemies.
Erdogan is currently embroiled in a political scandal which was furthered when an audio clip was anonymously released via Twitter. The tweet contained a link that implicated widespread corruption in Erdogan’s administration. Users that attempted to access Twitter were redirected to a webpage with a statement from the telecommunications regulator in Turkey that cited several court orders for the reason the site was blocked. The court orders from the government asking Twitter to remove the tweets with the incriminating audio clips have gone unanswered by the company.
Twitter, a website widely used by celebrities, also found another use during the Arab Spring. Activists and protestors utilized the social media platform to spread up- to- the- minute information to the world. Twitter provided people who may not have had a voice through official channels or media with a way to tell their story about what was happening in their country. Twitter was used in Turkey last year to spread the word about protests against the government which ended in Erdogan requesting that Twitter establish an office in the country so the company can respond more quickly to the government’s requests. That request also went unanswered.
Twitter is only the one of the social media platforms that the Turkish government has bumped heads with. Facebook, Google and YouTube have all been criticized by Erdogan for their content that is unflattering to him. He has also threatened to extend the ban to these companies and others unless they comply with requests from the Turkish government. With Prime Minister Erdogan threatening to shut down access to these companies ‘no matter what the international community thinks’ it sets up a potentially troubling situation blocking the access for the citizens of Turkey during a time of political unrest.
This situation will continue to evolve in the coming weeks. Whether or not other social media websites will go down or if Twitter will come back online in Turkey remains to be seen. Erdogan seems eager to show power in the face of the international community saying, “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.”
– Colleen Eckvahl