Tech Censorship

Twitter Unfairly Maligned For Turkey Censorship

Twitter more transparent than Google or Facebook and even Elon Musk’s harshest critics say Twitter had little choice

May 16, 2023
Member of Parliament in Turkey, Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, protesting government censorship legislation that criminalized “disinformation” last year. [October 13, 2022, in Ankara, Turkey, Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Critics of Twitter are roasting its owner, Elon Musk, for agreeing to the censorship demands of the Turkish government days before last Sunday’s election. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said Musk should have done what “What Wikipedia did: we stood strong for our principles and fought to the Supreme Court of Turkey and won. This is what it means to treat freedom of expression as a principle rather than a slogan.”

But Twitter had done exactly that. “We will continue to object in court,” Twitter explained yesterday, “as we have done with all requests, but no further legal action was possible before the start of voting. Five court orders have been issued against Twitter regarding these actions and we have already objected to four of them. While one of our objections has been rejected, three of them are still under review. We are filing our objections to the fifth order tomorrow.”

Critics say that Musk should have called the government’s bluff and risked letting the government shut off Twitter entirely. I am sympathetic to this view since I think it would be a strong show of force at a time when governments worldwide are cracking down on freedom of speech. At the same time, Twitter under Musk has been more transparent than any other Internet company, including Twitter pre-Musk, in announcing the government’s censorship.

Yesterday, Twitter released the Turkish court orders, and the letters from the government regulator, demanding censorship. Neither Google nor Facebook nor any other Internet company has done so, despite having complied with Turkish censorship demands for at least two years and perhaps longer.

As such, while all the attention over the last few days has been on Twitter, other Internet companies are being let off the hook. In 2021, ProPublica reported, “Sheryl Sandberg and Top Facebook Execs Silenced an Enemy of Turkey to Prevent a Hit to the Company’s Business.”

And Turkey has cracked down significantly since Wikipedia’s lawsuit in 2019. In October 2022 email describing Turkey’s new law, a Twitter executive complained, “Google has been disengaged and intends to comply.”

As for Facebook’s Meta, the executive said, it “has been proactive at the highest levels in its efforts to change/delay/derail the law. However, if the law is passed and their businesses are materially challenged by sanctions, I would expect both companies to find compliance solutions.”

Moreover, even Musk haters, like Substack journalist Casey Newton, who openly roots for Twitter’s failure, had concluded in early 2021, based on what had happened in India as well as Turkey, that “whether a social network complies with government requests or challenges them, in the end it will eventually be brought to heel.”

And yesterday, after lambasting Musk again at length, Newton and his colleague Zoë Schiffer wrote, “On this point [relating to Turkey’s censorship], we can be sympathetic to Musk. This is not the first time a company has restricted access to content as a last-ditch effort to remain operating there. In fact, Turkey temporarily blocked access to Twitter as recently as February, in the wake of the country’s devastating earthquake. And in 2021, before Musk bought the company, Twitter restricted access to various high-profile accounts at the behest of the Indian government.

“The rationale for these moves is fairly straightforward: it’s typically better for the cause of speech to have at least some content available,” they concluded.


Categories: Tech Censorship

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