The Twitter ineptitude of Erdoğan’s government

The Twitter ineptitude of Erdoğan’s government

Transportation and Communication Minister Lütfi Elvan said late on Sunday that the Telecommunication Directorate (TİB) had on a number of occasions asked Twitter to remove content on the back of court orders. He added that the number of accounts that the TİB had asked Twitter to remove was 643 from Jan. 1, 2014 up to now.

However, as we learn from the Twitter’s Transparency Report, Turkey requested the removal of only two accounts upon court orders between July and December 2013. This indicates an enormous increase in removal requests from Turkey in the aftermath of Dec. 17, 2013, the day when a massive corruption and graft probe engulfing four of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Cabinet ministers was launched. That tells us that Erdoğan’s Twitter drive is solely aimed at preventing the leak of more corruption allegations through social media.

As the government hesitated to effectively investigate corruption allegations that were allegedly linked to Erdoğan and his family, his phone recordings with family members and businessmen started to be leaked through social media. That explains the Erdoğan government’s very controversial move to ban Twitter in a bid to prevent Turkish users from getting informed about his alleged wrongdoings through non-traditional communication channels. 

Twitter is a U.S.-based international company and is abiding by U.S. laws, which are much more advanced in terms of individual human rights and democratic norms in comparison to Turkey’s. Many such requests, although made upon court orders, may not have been regarded as violations of human rights in the eyes of Twitter, which has already eased the concerns of Turkish users that it won’t betray their trust.

But when I heard that the number of Turkish requests had reached 643 in less than three months (more than seven per day), I also inquired about the quality and eligibility of these appeals and how they were made to Twitter. As Twitter has no office in Turkey, I asked whether these requests had been made through the Justice Ministry or the Foreign Ministry, which has a consulate in Los Angeles.

It’s my information that they have not been brought to the attention of Twitter in either way. The only remaining way is to either send the removal requests by post or to make them quicker by mail or fax.

And there is another question: Have these removal requests upon court orders have been sent to Twitter in English or in Turkish? Because the translation of these seven removal requests per day would surely take time. If these requests were sent with poor English, or without being properly translated, it would only be natural for Twitter to ignore them.

In fact, this picture depicts us another important one. As one recalls, President Abdullah Gül was the first to break the Twitter ban and openly challenge the government’s move by saying the “complete blackout is unlawful.” In accordance with the presidency, the Foreign Ministry, institutionally, seems unhappy about the closure and has not taken any initiative in this course (apart from Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s statements on the issue). I think diplomats at the ministry prefer to see the situation as a legal problem and do not want to get involved in it.

Led by a former National Intelligence Organization (MİT) official, the TİB, a government body under the Communication and Transportation Ministry, seems to have been left alone in its struggle against Twitter, which has 12 million users in Turkey. So should the situation be read as an indication of a fiercer battle to take place between Turkish institutions after the upcoming local elections? Hopefully, it’s only five days to go to elections.