Twitter ban raises specter of broader social media clampdown in Turkey

YouTube rejected requests by the Turkish government in recent weeks to block certain videos, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, citing anonymous sources. Some people within Google feared an imminent blackout in the wake of Twitter’s ban, the Journal cited the people as saying.

YouTube did not return requests for comment.

Twitter said on Friday it hopes access to its social media service in Turkey will be restored soon, a day after it was blocked by the country’s government.

The ban, which has proven to be not entirely effective, is the latest effort by a government to squash critical comments that flow freely over online social networks.

For Twitter, the block highlights the thorny policy challenge facing the San Francisco-based company.

Analysts and observers said they were not immediately concerned that the ban in Turkey could embolden other governments to follow suit and clamp down on Twitter. But the company’s easy-to-use communications service and its long-running support of free speech have made it a visible target for some governments.

While Twitter has earned the ire of other governments, Turkey’s move to ban Twitter is particularly noteworthy, said Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“It’s a democracy, that’s the difference. This is a country that actually has legitimate elections,” said York. “That could set a dangerous precedent.”

“I do think there’s a risk democracies could do this,” she added. “I don’t think most would go so far as (banning) the entire site. I think instead what we’ll see is more pressure being put on Twitter to block certain content.”

Wall Street remains more focused on Twitter’s overall growth prospects and its budding advertising business, with Twitter’s stock finishing Friday’s regular trading session up 1.6 percent at $50.92 despite the situation in Turkey.

“If it does have any ripple effects, then obviously we would be concerned, but at this point I think it’s isolated,” said Arvind Bhatia of Stern, Agee & Leach.

But he noted that Twitter does have more political risk than other social media companies such as Facebook Inc, where messages tend to be shared among private groups rather than posted to the general public. Twitter also allows users to post messages under pseudonyms, instead of using their real identities, making it a popular choice among protesters.

Twitter is one of the most popular communications channels in Turkey. Outraged Turkish users took to Twitter on Friday, mocking the ban by circumventing the restrictions through virtual private networks and text messages.

A court in Turkey blocked access to Twitter after Erdoğan’s defiant vow, on the campaign trail on Thursday ahead of March 30 local elections, to “wipe out” the social media service, whatever the international community had to say about it.

The order followed a document posted on Twitter that purported to be transcripts of phone conversations relating to a corruption investigation of former cabinet ministers close to Erdogan.

Industry Minister Fikri Işık said talks with Twitter were taking place and the ban would be lifted if the San Francisco-based firm appointed a representative in Turkey and agreed to block specific content when requested by Turkish courts.

A Twitter spokesman declined to say whether it would appoint someone in Turkey but said it was moving forward in talks with the government.

Twitter has said it stands with users in Turkey and published a tweet to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.

The clash with the Turkish government highlighted the broad policy challenges facing Twitter, which enjoys significant traction precisely in countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Brazil, where restrictive speech laws and the reach of government censors have conflicted with Twitter’s free-speech principles.

Because of its nature as a public, broadcast medium and its viral network model, where information (or rumors) can spread exponentially through “retweets,” Twitter has been viewed as a particularly destabilizing force.

Twitter was blocked for roughly four years in Iran following protests during its 2009 presidential election, while David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, suggested during the London riots in 2011 that he might block the service, although never followed through.

The Turkish ban this week came just days after Chief Executive Dick Costolo paid his first visit to China, where Twitter has also been banned since 2009. Twitter downplayed the likelihood of opening an office in the world’s largest Internet market, but the visit highlighted the tension between Twitter’s values and its business objectives.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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