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'About freedom of expression': Elon Musk-led Twitter To Continue To Object In Court Against Erdogan's Turkey Govt Order

Elon Musk-led Twitter has legally moved against the Turkish government's directive citing that the company had "concerns about freedom of expression directly".

Middle East
| Written By
Anmol Singla
Twitter Elon Musk & Erdogan Turkey

Image: Twitter/AP

Elon Musk-led Twitter has issued another update in its legal battle against the Turkish government's social media directive which the latter has accused the tech giant of not complying to. 

Twitter's Global Government Affairs account tweeted detailing its approach in Turkey, saying that the company would "continue to object in court, as we have done with all requests, but no further legal action was possible before the start of voting." Twitter said that it was in negotiation with the Turkish government throughout last week, and said that Ankara had informed Twitter that it was "the only social media service not complying in full with existing court orders".

Elon Musk then reacted to a Twitter user commending Twitter for "coming through with full transparency on the Turkish government’s censorship". Elon Musk replied, "We’ve pushed harder for free speech than any other Internet company, including Wokipedia Jimmy Wales". The tech billionaire tagged Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales while purposely referring to the information website as "Wokipedia".

Twitter in its update had said that it had communicated its concerns about freedom of expression directly with the court and the Turkish government.

During the weekend, the government under Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's leadership issued a directive to Twitter, instructing them to restrict access to the social media accounts of approximately twelve opposition figures within the country. This action resulted in a strong negative response towards Elon Musk for complying with the government's order.

Twitter said that it believed the directive to be "a final threat to throttle the service - after several such warnings," and therefore in order to keep Twitter available over the election weekend, the company took action on four accounts and 409 Tweets identified by the court order.

Although Twitter did not explicitly disclose the specific restricted accounts, Turkish Minute, a local news outlet, reported that the affected profiles included those of Muhammed Yakut, a Kurdish businessman who has alleged Erdogan's involvement in a staged coup attempt in 2016, and Cevheri Güven, an investigative journalist known for covering corruption within the country.

Elon Musk defended the restriction. Responding to a critical tweet from popular Substack writer Matthew Yglesias, who wrote that the censorship “should generate some interesting Twitter Files reporting,” Musk replied: “Did your brain fall out of your head, Yglesias? The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?” Later in the day, Musk argued that the action was “par for the course for all Internet companies – we are just going to be clear that it’s happening, unlike the others.”

Since 2017, there has been a connection between Musk and Erdogan, evident from their meeting then in Turkey to explore potential collaborations involving Tesla, SpaceX, and Turkish companies. Over the years, their business relationship has grown stronger. In December, at the Football World Cup final, a moment captured on camera showcased an uncomfortable handshake between Musk and Erdogan, lasting nearly a minute.

Erdogan's use of social media to consolidate power: An old tale

During his two-decade presidency, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been accused of consolidating his control over authority by weakening crucial democratic establishments. The current election in Turkey is widely regarded as a test to determine if Turkey will persistently descend into the rule of a single authoritarian figure. The polls which concluded on Sunday have determined a Presidential run-off between Erdogan and his main political rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu scheduled to take place on May 28.

In October 2022, the ruling party in Turkey implemented comprehensive social media regulations that bore resemblances to legislation enacted in the European Union. The objectives of both the Turkish and European regulations include curtailing harmful online content, combatting the dissemination of disinformation, and enhancing transparency regarding content delivery on platforms like Instagram and YouTube. The European Union's regulations, known as the Digital Services Act, additionally entail the possibility of imposing fines of up to 6 percent of a company's revenue for any potential violations, reported Politico.

Turkish government officials dismiss accusations that their efforts to regulate social media are driven by political motives. They often point to similar content regulations, such as those implemented within the European Union, as evidence that politicians worldwide are taking steps to address the issue of harmful content propagation among their respective populations, thereby pushing back against powerful tech companies.

In response to a deadly attack in Istanbul in November, the Turkish government implemented a brief nationwide ban on various digital platforms. Following a massive earthquake in February, a ban specifically targeting Twitter was imposed, resulting in 78 arrests for sharing "provocative posts." These instances of digital platform bans align with a decade-long pattern, reflecting Erdoğan's broader control over the media landscape, which aims to suppress opposition voices.

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