Turkish government demands temporary content bans from Twitter during elections

At the request of the government, the short message service Twitter is blocking certain content in Turkey at short notice and temporarily. The occasion is the simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections in the country this Sunday (May 14). The company itself announced the decision in several brief tweets – in English and in Turkish. However, one does not learn the specific reason for the blocking, nor what content is blocked and for how long.

Under the Twitter corporate user account for global government affairs, the company wrote on Friday that it was blocking “some content” in response to legal regulations and to keep Twitter available “to the Turkish people.” Twitter also emphasizes that users affected by a blockage will be informed and that this is all done in accordance with company guidelines. Outside of Türkiye, this content is still visible. The ban has been in effect since Saturday, the last day of the election campaign between the parties and the presidential candidates – among the latter, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is the only promising candidate against incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Without further information on the circumstances of the locks, speculation in various directions is obvious – and it was not long in coming. The American blogger and journalist Matthew Yglesias claimed on Twitter that the ban was initiated by the Turkish government and aims to “censor” the opposition in the election – but he did not provide any evidence for his statements. In a tip against the Twitter owner, he also wrote that Elon Musk complied with the request, which could later result in an “interesting Twitter Files report”. Yglesias alludes to the internals of the Twitter leadership team (before Musk took over) published by Elon Musk and the journalist Matt Taibbi, who primarily denounced the alleged arbitrariness in the blocking of tweets.

Musk, in turn, did not let the leadership sit on him for long in his usual thin-skinned manner and replied polemically that Yglesias did not understand the scope of the decision: Twitter only had the choice of blocking certain tweets or being switched off altogether in Turkey. In the further course of the sometimes heated debate on Twitter, he also announced that he would publish the government’s request for the blockade. However, there was no sign of this until Sunday afternoon (the polling stations in Turkey close at 4 p.m. German summer time).

In Turkey, special rules apply to online platforms such as Twitter. Due to a social media law in the country, for example, the company had to set up its own branch with a local representative so that communication with the government and authorities worked properly. Twitter had previously violated the law passed in 2020 and thus received an advertising ban. In the event of an infringement of the Social Media Act, the affected platforms are threatened with a ban in the form of bandwidth throttling or a blocking of the target domain.

In addition, a law to combat online crime obliges such platforms to take active countermeasures. The Turkish government repeatedly suppresses unwelcome statements on Twitter through individual blocks or a total blockade, most recently during the devastating earthquake in February of this year.


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