Turkey’s Internet watchdog has blocked Twitter, following threats by its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan fuelled by the network’s ability to carry rumours about government corruption.
It’s a bold and draconian move from a country desperate to join the EU — which means it joins the ranks of Syria, North Korea and Iran on a list of authoritarian states which hate 140-character messages. Turkey is, in fact, one of the top 10 users of Twitter world-wide, boasting millions of active users, so it comes as a major blow. Still, Erdogan’s message yesterday was clear:
“Twitter and the rest, we will root out all of them. I don’t care what the international community says, they will see the power of the Republic of Turkey.”
The move is a result of Turkish citizens turning to the network to organise demonstrations and express concerns about government corruption. Mainstream media in the country has avoided criticism of the president ahead of forthcoming elections, hence the drive to communicate such messages over Twitter.
For what it’s worth, the ban seems to be largely ineffectual. BBC Radio 4 this morning reported that VPN clients were allowing savvy users to tweet within hours of the ban and Twitter pointed out to the Wall Street Journal that users can still use its service via SMS. Twitter is apparently “looking into” the issue now.
Regardless of whether the ban is effective or not, it’s a clear authoritarian message that Turkey’s government is uncomfortable with free speech about its behaviour. Understandably, that’s not gaining much respect around the rest of Europe; indeed, Neelie Kroes, the European Commission vice president, called the ban “groundless, pointless, cowardly.” Erdogan may have just gone a little too far. [WSJ]