Turkey bans Twitter — and Twitter explodes


Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters )

“Twitter, mwitter!” Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cried on Thursday.

Rough translation: Twitter, schmitter!

This was the last thing Erdogan said Thursday before the lights went out on Twitter near midnight. “We now have a court order,” declared Erdogan, who’s ensnared in a scandal inflamed by social media over recordings that purportedly reveal corruption in his administration. “We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.”

There’s no arguing: it has been witnessed.

Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan banned Twitter in Turkey after a video surfaced that he had previously tried to block. The ban has provoked furious backlash on Twitter. (NowThis News)

 

After Turkey’s Twitter was apparently disabled, the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey went supernova, though Twitter is still accessible via the site’s SMS service, which allows Turks to text in a tweet.

President Abdullah Gul, a political ally of Erdogan’s, was among those who circumvented the order, which he contested in a series of tweets. “I hope this implementation won’t last long,” he wrote. Many — although not all — users trying to access the network early on Friday instead saw a notice from Turkey’s telecommunications authority, citing four court orders.

From across the world last night, thousands of Twitter users dispatched outraged — and sometimes hilarious — updates and photos touching upon feelings of dismay, humor, resignation.

Erdogan’s showdown with Twitter has been long coming. In mid-2013, thousands of protests ripped across Turkey ostensibly in opposition to a proposed urban development of Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park. But many say that discontent was more rooted in the government’s shift away from secularism – Erdogan is Muslim — and its recent crackdown on freedom of press and expression.


As in other countries, social media played a major role in the protests, which included as many as 3.5 million people in a nation of 81 million. Erdogan was outraged and called all social media the “worst menace to society.”


His opposition to social media comes as something of a surprise considering Erdogan has fully embraced other new technologies. In January, when Erdogan couldn’t make it to a party meeting to deliver a speech, he sent a 10-foot hologram of himself to deliver remarks. It represented perhaps the first time any leader of any country had actually teleported.


Erdogan hits campaign trail — via hologram. Full Video (Reuters)

But over the last few months, as elections approached, social media has really gotten under Erdogan’s skin. This, despite the fact that Erdogan, who doesn’t follow anyone, has amassed 4.17 million Twitter followers and unleashed 3,043 tweets.

Two weeks ago, after the February release of recordings which show someone sounding like Erdogan telling his son to dispose of a large sum of cash, the prime minister went ballistic. He called the recordings a “fabrication” and ultimately blamed social media.

“We are determined on the issue, regardless of what the world may say,” Erdogan said. “We won’t allow the people to be devoured by YouTube, Facebook or others. Whatever steps need to be taken we will take them without wavering.”

Then this week arrived. The issue of social media again arose. The Supreme Electoral Board had blocked an intense Erdogan YouTube video ad depicting the desecration of the Turkish flag, presumably by Erdogan’s enemies, and then thousands of Turks, presumably his supporters, coming to the rescue. The board said the ad had misused national symbols. Erdogan threatened to “ban the ban.”

“Then we will ban that,” he said. “We will bring a ban to the ban.”


Turkey’s Erdogan threatens to ban Facebook, YouTube. “We will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook.” Full Video (Reuters)

Thursday, Erdogan had had enough of Twitter. “We will wipe out all of these,” Erdogan proclaimed.

Hours later, according to local media, anyone in Turkey who tried to access Twitter was directed to another website listing three court rulings as reason for the shutdown.

But before that, Erdogan squeezed in one last tweet. At 1 p.m. — ban or no ban — he tweeted to his followers his video of Turks swarming a flag like bees to honeycomb.

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Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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