Twitter has just released its yearly transparency reports, and Turkey has emerged as one of the world’s leading social media censors. As the Telegraph reports:
More than 470 content removal requests were made by courts, government agencies, police and others in Turkey [during the last six months of 2014], and Russia came second in a list of 10 compiled below. […]Meanwhile, more than 90 per cent of tweets withheld after requests from authorities, courts and others, were made in Turkey. A total of 1,982 tweets were withheld, 1,820 within Turkey. […]Facebook’s transparency report for the first half of 2014 further illustrates the attack on freedom of expression online in Turkey. 1,893 pieces were successfully censored in Turkey and only India was higher with 4,960 pieces.
Turkish requests to censor Twitter increased by 84% after July 1; probably not coincidentally, the surge in requests during the second half of 2014 coincided roughly with the election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as President in August. Social media has been a popular format to protest alleged corruption within Erdogan’s inner circle. For that reason, the President’s allies have often sought to censor the medium.
Two articles from the current issue of our magazine illuminate the background to Erdogan’s crackdowns, both large (the arrest of prominent opposition journalists) and small (the censoring of individual Twitter users). Jenny B. White outlines how Turkey’s current internal divides are more complicated than the old secular-Islamist split, and are driven by historical Turkish dynamics such as the “bigman” complex. Erdogan, the current bigman, must be right, cannot be seen to be corrupt, and will not tolerate rivals. And who are those rivals? As Berna Turam points out, the group perceived as the most dangerous are the Gülenists, who were targeted in the aftermath of the corruption leaks.
Erdogan once compared democracy to a street car, which you ride until you get to where you want to go and then get off. He seems to be pulling the cord for a stop harder and harder every day.