The effect of the Twitter ban on the economy
As the Twitter ban enters its fifth day today, we are seeing quite a weird picture at the governmental level. Certain Cabinet members, who take into consideration Turkey’s image abroad and its effects on the economy, are keen on using a moderate language about the ban.
On the other hand, first and foremost Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said at his Yenikapı rally in Istanbul the other day that he would close Twitter even if the entire world opposed it, and other Cabinet members such as Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu who said, “We have brought Twitter to its knees; Turkey is no banana republic,” are marching to a completely different tune. There are serious blunders, particularly when Communication and Transportation Minister Lütfi Elvan, speaking live on a TV channel, talked about pornographic images while defending the Twitter ban.
At the governmental wing, if we leave aside the business world for a moment, it is Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the economy Ali Babacan and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek who come first in taking into account the damage that the Twitter ban has on Turkey’s perception.
Şimşek is one strong Twitter user. He has around 865,000 followers. Recently, speaking at the Uludağ Economic Summit, which is known as the “Davos of Turkey,” he said a bright future was awaiting the country. He accepted that banning Twitter altogether did not create a good perception.
Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the economy Ali Babacan, who also spoke at the same summit, said he did not imagine that the Twitter ban would last very long: “The ban is not good in terms of Turkey’s perception, but on the other hand there is also a situation that affects Turkey’s image. Let’s hope that this is solved within the framework of our own laws ... The foreign investor should be able to say, ‘Legal security fully functions in this country.’ If we cannot make him say this, we cannot bring foreign investors.”
Babacan is the name who knows best that Turkey needs foreign capital and that capital comes according to confidence. As a matter of fact, foreign direct investment (FDI) has a decreasing trend in Turkey. The FDI to Turkey in 2013 was $12.7 billion. This is the lowest among the countries known as the “Fragile Five.”
For instance, Brazil, in the same group attracted $63 billion, Mexico $38 billion and India $28 billion in 2013.
The Twitter ban, as well as affecting the flow of foreign direct investment through “perception,” may also affect the tourism sector. As a matter of fact, talking about the Twitter ban, Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB) head Başaran Ulusoy emphasized the importance of social media for the modern tourist, saying, “Tourists do not want to lose their contacts with their countries and with the world.”
The Twitter ban is just one dimension in Turkey’s tough relationship with the Internet. The head of the Informatics Association of Turkey, also the Deputy Chair of the Eczacıbaşı Executive Committee, Faruk Eczacıbaşı, has reiterated several times that the consequences of Internet Law number 5651 that passed in Parliament recently could be very grave.
Let us remember what Eczacıbaşı said on this law, just two days prior to Twitter ban: “The law has been endorsed in Parliament with even heavier terms. There were some cosmetic changes upon the president’s demand. The prime minister said this law would be reviewed after March 30 and that even YouTube and Facebook might be closed. How can a government of a state, which is one of the founders of Council of Europe, a candidate for European Union membership, one that has committed to abide by the EU legislation, still talk about closing YouTube and Facebook?”
Obviously, Eczacıbaşı had not also thought of Twitter, which has 12 million users in Turkey.
On the other hand, this government, which rushed through the Internet law, has kept the Protection of Individual Data bill waiting for 10 years.
According to Eczacıbaşı, as long as this bill is not passed, Turkey will continue to be regarded as an insecure third country according to EU legislation. At the end of the day, the Protection of Individual Data bill is an important law directly concerning the economy, foreign investment and also exports.
I wonder if anybody would lend an ear to Eczacıbaşı during this Twitter ban chaos. He said, “The government wants to both encourage foreign capital to invest in Turkey and at the same time is building the infrastructure that is needed for this in a superficial way.”