Earlier this month, Twitter cooperated with the Turkish government to restrict select users’ access to the platform prior to election day.

About the incident

According to Turkish Minute, Twitter fulfilled the censorship request in order to “ensure Twitter remain[ed] available to the people of Turkey” (rather than have the platform banned altogether) during a time when it would provide a critical space for voters to discuss key political issues. The social media giant blocked the visibility of four accounts and 409 tweets within the Turkish region, solely because they spoke unfavorably of the current President, Recep Erdoğan.

One of the regionally-banned accounts belonged to investigative journalist Cevheri Güven, whose work has uncovered corruption in the Turkish government. Güven believes he was banned because Erdoğan feared that his reports on election fraud could cripple his position. In a statement to Turkish Minute, Güven shared:

“It’s a disgrace to democracy and freedom of expression that Twitter has caved to Tayyip Erdoğan… In the last two months, I have been particularly focused on election fraud and manipulation. I knew Erdoğan wanted to close my account, so this is not a surprise.

What is scary is that social media platforms are bowing to Erdoğan. YouTube manipulated the algorithm for recommending my videos in Turkey… Now comes the Twitter decision. Facebook has already been blocking my videos for the past two years…

If platforms implement the decisions of dictators instead of supporting democracy and freedom of expression and standing by investigative journalists, the world will be worse off.” 

How Twitter responded

On May 15, Twitter released a statement declaring that while it acted in compliance with the Turkish government court orders, it was pushing back against the speech restrictions:

“We were in negotiation with the Turkish government throughout last week, who made clear to us Twitter was the only social media service not complying in full with existing court orders… We communicated our concerns about freedom of expression directly. We will continue to object in court, as we have done with all requests, but no further legal action was possible before the start of voting.”

Considering Twitter’s previous dealings with Turkish officials when the platform was banned in 2014, and in 2016 when it refused to restrict the account of a prominent Turkish reporter, many remain baffled by the compliance, especially with “free speech absolutist” Elon Musk now at the helm.