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Twitter ban called ‘digital coup’ 22 mars 2014

Posted by Acturca in Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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The Globe and Mail (Canada) March 22, 2014, p. A14

Nick Tattersall and Orhan Coskun, Ankara, Reuters

Court blocks access to the social-media service, sparking furious reaction at home and abroad. Turkey’s ban on Twitter ahead of bitterly contested elections brought a furious reaction at home and abroad on Friday, with users of the social-networking service denouncing the move as a “digital coup” and the President expressing his disapproval.

A court blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s defiant vow, on the campaign trail on Thursday ahead of March 30 local elections, to “wipe out” the social-media service, whatever the international community had to say about it.

Industry Minister Fikri Isik said talks with Twitter were taking place and the ban would be lifted if the San Francisco-based firm appointed a representative in Turkey and agreed to block specific content when requested by Turkish courts.

“We stand with our users in Turkey who rely on Twitter as a vital communications platform. We hope to have full access returned soon,” the company said in a tweet.

A company spokesman declined to say whether it would appoint someone in Turkey but said it was moving forward in talks with the government.

Tech-savvy Turks – President Abdullah Gul apparently among them – quickly found ways to circumvent the ban, with the hashtag #Twitter is blocked in Turkey among the top trending globally on Friday.

“One cannot approve of the complete closure of social media platforms,” Mr. Gul tweeted, voicing his hope that the ban would be short-lived and setting himself publicly at odds with the Prime Minister.

Mr. Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 11 years, is battling a corruption scandal that has been fed by social media awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing. He did not mention the Twitter ban at two campaign rallies on Friday.

Turkey’s main opposition party said it would challenge the ban and file a criminal complaint against Mr. Erdogan on the grounds of violating personal freedoms. The country’s bar association filed a separate court challenge.

Twitter users called the move a “digital coup,” some comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social-media platforms are tightly controlled. There were also calls for protests.

“Waking up to no Twitter in Turkey feels like waking up to a coup. The modern equivalent of occupying the radio stations,” U.S. author and journalist Andrew Finkel, who has reported from Turkey for more than 20 years, said on his Twitter account.

The Turkish government had in recent weeks asked Google Inc. to block certain videos on YouTube but the Internet company has rejected its requests, The Wall Street Journal cited people familiar with the matter as saying.

YouTube remained online on Friday but some within Google feared an imminent blackout in the wake of Twitter’s ban, The Journal cited the people as saying.

Mr. Erdogan’s ruling AK Party has already tightened Internet controls, handed government more influence over the courts and reassigned thousands of police and hundreds of prosecutors and judges as it fights the corruption scandal, which the Prime Minister has cast as a plot by political enemies to oust him.

Mr. Gul, seen as a more conciliatory figure than Mr. Erdogan, has been hesitant to openly criticize the Prime Minister in the run-up to the election, despite the scandal and the latter’s increasing claims of a conspiracy against his government.

Telecoms watchdog BTK said Twitter had been blocked by the courts after complaints were made by citizens that it was breaching privacy. It said the social-media service had ignored previous requests to remove content.

“Because there was no other choice, access to Twitter was blocked in line with court decisions to avoid the possible future victimization of citizens,” it said.

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said the move raised grave concerns and “cast doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards.” Turkey has been seeking membership in the EU for decades.

Germany, home to the largest Turkish diaspora in Europe, said the move did not fit with its view of freedom of expression, while the British Foreign Office said social media had a “vital role to play in a modern democracy.”

Twitter published a tweet to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.

Mr. Erdogan was scathing about the service on Thursday. “We will wipe out all of these,” he said. “The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is.”

Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said he expected the block to be temporary.


Humourous tweets used as weapons

Ayla Albayrak

Turkish Internet users deployed one of the country’s most piercing weapons against government attempts to block Twitter late Thursday: humour.

Many of Turkey’s estimated 10 million Twitter account holders reacted to the ban by concocting ironic jokes and posting pictures lampooning the government.

Dozens of graphic-art pieces – many using the Twitter logo and the Turkish flag to satirize and attack the ban – emerged almost immediately.

One image replaced the crescent and star on Turkey’s flag with an open-jawed Pac-Man trying to eat the Twitter bird.

Another showed circling Twitter birds covering the head of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in droppings.

One of the most shared pictures superimposed Mr. Erdogan onto a Barack Obama campaign poster, with the message “Yes We Ban.”

Tweets sent in Turkey were up 138 per cent on Friday a day after the country’s Twitter ban, according to data published Friday by Brandwatch, a firm that analyzes social-media analytics. The data, which took a sample set of geolocated tweets over a two-hour period, underscored how the ban appears to be backfiring.

Hundreds of thousand of Turks, who have become accustomed to broadening Internet censorship on recent years, have also used private networks and programs to circumvent the ban.

Political satire has taken over social media in Turkey in a way unseen in years, analysts say.

“Political satire has always been very strong in Turkey, especially during times of high political polarization and in the 1970s. Now it’s back after the wall of fear has been surmounted,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Even five years ago, he said, Turks were more wary of expressing criticism against the government in any way, including humour.


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