Court documents reveal the online speech Turkey was trying to block

Turkish Twitter exploded with users circumventing a ban implemented by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday night. Hours after Erdogan dismissed the service, saying "Twitter, mwmitter," users across the country reported issues accessing the social network. Twitter says it is investigating the issue, but meanwhile it's official account tweeted out information about how to use the service via SMS. And the implementation of the ban by many service providers was relatively simple to get around.

An Istanbul court decision obtained by The Washington Post dated earlier this week gives an example of specific online speech the government was trying to limit before the larger ban was called. In the document, a Twitter account and a blog with posts critical of Erdogan's party are ordered to be blocked after former government minister  Binalı Yıldırım and his son complained that the posts defamed them. Yıldırım allegedly has been implicated in an ongoing corruption scandal, details of which have leaked online.

The order appears to be a precursor to the widespread ban attempted by the government. Some Turkish users trying to access Twitter were greeted with a page citing some court orders that the service was violating, apparently including the court order obtained by The Post.

Reuters reported that Erdogan's office said that Twitter's failure to implement Turkish court orders seeking the removal of some content left it with no option but to ban the platform. "If Twitter officials insist on not implementing court orders and rules of law ... there will be no other option but to prevent access to Twitter to help satisfy our citizens' grievances," the statement said.

The document obtained by The Post orders the blocking of a Twitter account whose name roughly translates to "No votes for thief" and which appears to regularly tweet messages critical of Erdogan and the alleged corruption by his party. A related WordPress blog hosting similar content was also targeted by the court decision. The blog appears to be the subject of a "protective measure" in a database of restricted sites maintained by the Turkish Government. Its record on that database features a court number (No. 2014/181) that matches that of the documents obtained by The Post.


Erdogan has had a long, complex relationship with social media. He has repeatedly criticized Twitter, claiming in February that the service  was being used by a "robot lobby" to target his government, according to local media reports. Two weeks ago, Erdogan said that Turkey could also ban Facebook and YouTube, which he says have been abused by his enemies after a stream of audio recordings purportedly revealing corruption in his inner circle emerged online. The Twitter crackdown comes days ahead of a key local election.

The Twitter account targeted in the court order remained active as of Friday afternoon. A recent tweet urged followers to visit a new mirror of the blog, saying a previous version was banned or shut down.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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