Twitter accounts censored in Turkey due to Musk-Erdogan dealscritics

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Elon Musk’s reputation as a free speech absolutist took another hit on Saturday after Twitter sided with the Turkish government and censored the accounts of political opponents ahead of a disputed election.

In an announcement posted Friday evening, around 6 a.m. in the country, Twitter’s official global government affairs account said the platform would “restrict access to certain content in Turkey” in response to legal demands made to the site. social media.

Turkey’s presidential election – the most contested in years, the Washington Post reported – is scheduled for May 14.

“On the eve of a critical election in Turkey, Twitter appears to be acquiescing to the demands of the country’s autocratic leader, Erdogan, and censoring speech on the platform,” California Rep. Adam Schiff tweeted in response to the news. “Given Twitter’s complete lack of transparency, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Musk’s free speech promises have fallen again.”

Schiff’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Turkish dissidents targeted

Details of the legal request and the specific accounts targeted have not been made public. Still, Dr. Tuğrulcan Elmas, a postdoctoral researcher specializing in social media manipulation at Indiana University in Bloomington, told Insider that he had followed about half a dozen accounts posting social media-related content. Turkish election which had been suspended.

According to Elmas, the accounts chosen for restriction were some that the Turkish government has traditionally targeted because they had links to the political opposition or whistleblowers who criticized the country’s right-wing leader, President Recep Tayyip. Erdoğan.

One account, that of Kurdish businessman Muhammed Yakut, was among the restricted accounts. Yakut had previously shared information about Erdogan’s government dealings and alleged that the Turkish leader had been involved in his son-in-law’s disappearance, Turkish Minute reported last week.

Yakut had also hinted at sharing background information ahead of the election regarding a failed 2016 coup in the country, Turkish Minute reported on Saturday, insinuating that Erdogan and his allies had staged it all.

While Yakut and other political opponents have been censored, Elmas noted, a troll account known to impersonate a whistleblower named Ali Yeşildağ has not been removed from Twitter – although the spoof identity is against the platform’s terms of service and that the account posts fake nude photos of politicians in Turkey who oppose Erdogan.

The troll account not being banned, Elmas speculated, is reason to believe the account could be linked to the Turkish government as a propaganda tool, used to discredit Erdogan’s opponents by pretending to be blackmail.

“The fact that the government didn’t censor this account is kind of evidence of a false flag operation,” Elmas said.

Elmas told Insider that the four or five targeted accounts restricted on the social media site likely wouldn’t affect the election outcome, as targeted users could still post content to YouTube and Facebook or use a VPN. to avoid a ban based on the IP address.

“I think Twitter is going this route because the government demanded it,” Elmas said. “I think they also think these bans can all be easily circumvented, so blocking accounts has no impact, so they can just say yes to the government.”

Since its takeover last year, Musk’s Twitter has responded to more than 80% of government requests to censor or monitor users, according to a report by tech publication Rest of World – against a compliance rate of about 50% ahead of his direction.

Musk’s defensive response

Observers were quick to seize on Musk’s decision to strangle Twitter accounts at the behest of the Turkish government, which has become more authoritarian since Erdogan took power in 2014, with some Twitter users declaring Musk a ” free speech opportunist” in response to the news.

Musk, who touted the social platform as a city square, didn’t take kindly to the criticism.

“The Turkish government asked Twitter to censor their opponents just before an election and @elonmusk complied,” columnist Matt Yglesias tweeted on Saturday, prompting Musk to hit back in defense of his decision.

“Did your brain fall out of your head, Yglesias?” Musk replied. “The choice is to have Twitter throttled in its entirety or to limit access to certain tweets. Which one do you want?”

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, chimed in on the thread saying, “What Wikipedia did: we stood up for our principles and we fought in the Supreme Court of Turkey and we won. That’s what it means to treat free speech as a principle rather than a slogan.”

Wikipedia was banned in Turkey from 2017 to 2020 for an article on state-sponsored terrorism, where the country was described as a sponsor of terrorist groups Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. After a long legal battle in the country’s highest court, the Turkish block on Wikipedia was lifted in January 2020.

Musk’s defenders were quick to call Wales’ comparison with Wikipedia a false equivalence because the encyclopedia site operates as a non-profit organization, while Twitter is a for-profit company – that to which Wales replied: “If Elon now says ‘We don’t care about free speech if it interferes with making money’ then he should just say so.”

Twitter defended its actions on Monday, saying it was negotiating with the Turkish government last week.

The Turkish government “made it clear to us that Twitter was the only social media service not to fully comply with existing court orders,” the platform’s global government affairs department tweeted.

“We received what we thought was a final threat to strangle the service – after several such warnings – and in order to keep Twitter available over the election weekend, we took action on four accounts and 409 Tweets identified by court order,” Twitter added. .

—Twitter Global Government Affairs (@GlobalAffairs) May 15, 2023

Elon and Erdogan’s Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Elon Musk, right, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, before their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, November 8, 2017 Pool photo via

Twitter’s decision to restrict access to accounts from Turkey comes as Musk’s business ties to the country have grown following growing communication between Erdogan and Musk, Elmas noted, based on media coverage of their interactions.

The couple first met in 2017, Forbes reported, before sitting down in 2021 to discuss lithium batteries for electric vehicles and launching satellites. That year, Turkey signed its agreement with SpaceX to launch its locally produced communications satellite, Türksat 6A. In 2022, according to Forbes, Musk and Erdogan shook hands at the World Cup.

Last month, after years of delay, Turkey’s first domestic and national observation satellite was launched into space – with the help of a Falcon 9 rocket created by Musk’s company, SpaceX, reported the local Türkiye Newspaper. Although the financial details of the deal remain unclear, noted that a single Falcon 9 rocket flight costs around $62 million.

In February, Musk and Erdogan were also in contact after Turkey declined Musk’s offer to activate Starlink capabilities in the region after a deadly earthquake rocked the country and killed more than 40,000 people. . The country’s communications systems have not been disrupted to the point of needing the Starlink system, Insider previously reported.

Twitter was blocked in the area for about 12 hours after the quake, Scientific American reported, amid concerns from Turkey about misinformation circulating on the platform. However, the failure may have hampered the initial emergency response.

“I’m sure it’s just a coincidence,” Twitter users said, some sarcastically, circulating information about Musk’s business dealings with Turkey. By contrast, others have argued that his ties to the authoritarian country are proof that the self-proclaimed free speech icon “may not be cheap, but he is for sale”.

Musk and representatives for SpaceX, and the Republic of Turkey did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

May 16, 2023, 1:46 a.m. ET: This story has been updated to include a response from Twitter’s Global Government Affairs Division.

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