Recent statements from government officials indicate that it is unlikely there will be a reversal of the ban on Twitter, and that further restrictions are likely as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened to shut down Facebook and YouTube.
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, in what many see as an attempt to divert attention from major graft allegations targeting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family and his government, blocked access to Twitter late Thursday night.
In an effort to further the ban, the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) on Sunday blocked access to public Domain Name System (DNS) servers provided by Google, which many users were employing to circumvent the Twitter ban.
The ban came literally hours after Prime Minister Erdoğan said at a public rally in Bursa that he was determined to “root out Twitter.” Several users of the platform posted leaked phone recordings and photographs to allegedly serve as proof of graft allegations leveled against the prime minister’s family and government in an investigation that went public on Dec. 17.
Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah İşler, who responded to questions from the press in Gölbaşı, Ankara, where he was visiting as part of his election campaign, said Twitter was banned for disobeying court orders, one of the many differing explanations for the ban offered by government members.
“In order for Twitter to be seen as a legitimate party for us to talk with, it needs to open an office here. It should respond to criticism. There are certain court orders. It should abide by these orders. Anything that is forbidden in real life should also be forbidden in cyberspace,” he said, adding that there will be no turning back from the ban unless Twitter agrees to heed the court rulings.
Prime Minister Erdoğan and AK Party Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik have made similar statements, but no official has stated what court rulings they refer to. Some reports have claimed that TİB blocked access to Twitter because the site ignored several court orders for the deletion of accounts on which the leaked phone recordings were uploaded. TİB has not publicly clarified the legal basis behind the ban, which also came after the adoption of new stringent Internet laws in January.
Erdoğan says he ordered Twitter shutdown
The government’s insistence on the ban, which has drawn widespread domestic and international outrage, was not surprising. On Sunday, speaking at a campaign rally in İstanbul, Erdoğan confirmed that the order to block Twitter was given by him, contradicting previous information saying the ban was based on a court order.
Erdoğan said he had given the order because Twitter was not obeying Turkish laws. Previously, the Turkish government said that its telecommunications authority had blocked Twitter on court orders. However, the move did come shortly after Erdoğan threatened to shut down the online platform.
Erdoğan accused Twitter of applying double standards, of shutting down accounts when the US or the UK demand it, but “defending freedom” when Turkey, Ukraine or Egypt have concerns.
“What do they call it? Intolerance of freedom. I don’t care who it is [speaking], I’m not listening,” Erdoğan said.
He also gave signs of a further clampdown on social media, saying: “This entity called Twitter, this YouTube, this Facebook, they have shaken families to their roots. … I don’t understand how people of good sense could defend Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. There are all kinds of lies there.”
There is widespread expectation of further online leaks intended to damage the reputation of Erdoğan, who has denied all allegations of graft. These could emerge ahead of the local polls, where any result much below the 40 percent achieved by the AK Party five years ago could weaken Erdoğan’s prospects of being elected president in July.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) and the Turkish Bar Association (TBB) announced on Monday that they had taken legal action against the ban. The TGC said it petitioned the Ankara 5th Administrative Court to repeal the ban. The association said it was seeking a stay of execution on the ban and then its complete cancelation. In the petition, the TGC argued that the ban is arbitrary and without legal basis, in addition to being a violation of the freedom of speech. The TBB, which filed a petition with the İstanbul 5th Criminal Court of Peace, argued that the ban lacks a legal basis.
Meanwhile, recent data suggest that the ban has led to an increase in the number of tweets being posted after the ban’s introduction. According to data from sosyalmedya.in, a website that collects information and statistics on social media usage in Turkey, a total of 8 million tweets were posted on March 20 by 3 p.m. The number of tweets posted as of 3 p.m. on March 21, one day later and after the ban’s introduction, was 10.5 million. The number of tweets dropped to 7 million on Saturday and 6.6 million on Sunday, but this slight fall is attributed to more than 2 million students preparing for and taking the university admission examination over the weekend.