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Twitter succumbs to Erdoğan’s pressure, silences key voices in Turkey on election eve

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Bünyamin Tekin

Twitter announced at 6 a.m. Turkish time on Saturday that it was restricting access in Turkey to certain account holders to ensure the platform “remains available to the people of Turkey,” seen by critics as giving in to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the incumbent who is trailing his rival ahead of Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

“In response to legal process and to ensure Twitter remains available to the people of Turkey, we have taken action to restrict access to some content in Turkey today,” Twitter Global Government Affairs tweeted.

“We have informed the account holders of this action in line with our policy. This content will remain available in the rest of the world,” it added, followed by the same tweets in Turkish.

The accounts that were restricted by Twitter include those of Kurdish businessman Muhammed Yakut and investigative journalist Cevheri Güven. The timing of these restrictions, coming only a day before a critical election in which President Erdoğan is reportedly trailing, has raised concerns that the move is politically motivated, potentially stifling voices of dissent and impacting the election’s outcome.

Yakut had previously shared shocking revelations about the Turkish government, particularly concerning Erdoğan, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and former Finance Minister and Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak.

Yakut had earlier announced he would provide details on Saturday about the true nature of a failed coup in 2016. He previously said the 2016 coup attempt was staged and that President Erdoğan and members of his government all knew about it in advance. He said Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government as well as then-chief of general staff and current defense minister Akar were responsible for the death of 251 people on the night of the coup.

People challenging the AKP narrative on the failed coup or investigating its background are frequently targeted through judicial action or bans.

According to the AKP, it was staged by the faith-based Gülen movement, a claim strongly denied by the movement.

Many believe the abortive putsch was a false flag aimed at entrenching the authoritarian rule of President Erdoğan by rooting out dissidents and eliminating powerful actors such as the military in his desire for absolute power.

‘It’s a disgrace to democracy and freedom of expression’

Güven is a Turkish journalist who lives in exile in Germany and is on Erdoğan’s wanted list. His videos on YouTube, in which he talks about the Turkish government’s corruption and shady relations, attract millions of viewers.

“It’s a disgrace to democracy and freedom of expression that Twitter has caved to Tayyip Erdoğan,” Güven told Turkish Minute.

Opinion polls indicate that Erdoğan, who has been in power for 20 years, is trailing main opposition leader and presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Some even suggest Erdoğa could lose the presidency in the first round of voting. This situation is leading critics to fear that Erdoğan may resort to illegal tactics to secure a victory.

“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. It was made impossible to find my videos when people searched for them on YouTube in Turkey. Now comes the Twitter decision. Facebook has already been blocking my videos for the past two years,” Güven said, adding, “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.”

Güven said he is the independent investigative journalist with the most views among Turkish-language channels on YouTube. “Such a decision to restrict my accounts one day before the election is obviously to prevent anyone from learning about Erdoğan’s election fraud. I call on Twitter and Youtube to reverse this mistake.”

Most Turkish newspapers and television channels came under the control of government officials and their business allies during a sweeping crackdown that followed the failed coup in 2016.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 90 percent of the national media in Turkey, which was ranked 165th among 180 countries in the RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, is owned by pro-government businessmen and toe the official line.

But social networks and internet-based media remained largely free of oversight — much to the growing annoyance of Erdoğan.

This began to change when Turkey used the threat of harsh penalties to force giants such as Facebook and Twitter to appoint local representatives who can quickly comply with local court orders to take down contentious posts.

Erdoğan began to argue at around the same time that Turkey’s highly polarized society was particularly vulnerable to fake and misleading news.

Social media has “turned into one of the main threats to today’s democracy,” Erdoğan said in December 2021.

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