Twitter Global Government Affairs on Monday publicly released Turkish court orders to justify a recent restriction of accounts due to ongoing legal pressure from the Turkish government during the May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections, although the platform has yet to substantiate an alleged “throttling threat” from the government that led to its controversial decision.
We are today sharing an update on our approach in Turkey.
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 received what we believed to be…
— Twitter Global Government Affairs (@GlobalAffairs) May 15, 2023
Twitter says its move to limit the accounts came as part of a bid to keep the platform operational in Turkey over the crucial election weekend. The targeted accounts included those of Kurdish businessman Muhammed Yakut and exiled investigative journalist Cevheri Güven, both vocal critics of incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The restrictions came amid a tight electoral race in which Erdoğan emerged with 49.5 percent of the vote, just shy of the majority needed to avoid a runoff, according to unofficial results announced by the country’s election authority on Monday. His main opponent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, stood at 44.8 percent, promising his supporters to continue the fight in the second round. Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and electoral alliance secured a majority in the parliamentary elections, gaining 321 seats out of the 600 total.
According to the Twitter Global Government Affairs statement, Twitter received what it deemed a “final threat to throttle the service” from the Turkish authorities. It subsequently took action on four accounts and 409 tweets identified by the court order.
While the platform voiced its concerns about the potential infringement on freedom of expression, it stated that no further legal action was possible before the commencement of voting on Sunday.
The announcement came after Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, had a heated Twitter exchange with Bloomberg columnist Matthew Yglesias and investigative journalist Brian Krassenstein regarding the platform’s decision. Musk defended Twitter’s stance, hinting at sharing the content of the government request, which his platform fulfilled on Monday.
We could post what the government in Turkey sent us. Will do.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 13, 2023
The shared documents included several court orders dating back to 2018, requesting the removal or blocking of access to the aforementioned four accounts. However, the documents did not explicitly indicate a threat to block Twitter’s services in Turkey, contrary to Musk’s claims.
1. None of the shared documents and carbon & copy court decisions refer to the the "throttling threat". That is the most important document which needs to be shared for full transparency @elonmusk. @davidakaye https://t.co/4pVEdRixRh
— Yaman Akdeniz (@cyberrights) May 15, 2023
This raised further questions from Yaman Akdeniz, a well-known Turkish academic and cyber-rights activist. In a series of tweets Akdeniz noted the absence of any document referencing the alleged “throttling threat,” urging more transparency. He also pointed out the political motivations behind the court decisions and emphasized the need for more transparency on Twitter about these demands from governments.
— Cevheri Güven (@cevheriguven) May 15, 2023
“Twitter has made a statement about the blocking of my account, but there’s no document about the threat of the complete shutdown that @elonmusk hinted at,” journalist Güven tweeted, quoting Twitter Global Government Affairs’ tweet.
It remains to be seen how Twitter will address this lack of transparency and whether it will provide further evidence to support its throttling claim. Meanwhile, critics argue that the platform’s decision could have had a significant impact on the Turkish elections by suppressing dissenting voices during a crucial political event.