Musk defends move to 'censor' Twitter in Turkey during elections

Musk defends move to 'censor' Twitter in Turkey during elections
Journalists and social media users have questioned a decision by Twitter to block some content in Turkey days before the election.
3 min read
14 May, 2023
Musk defended the move and lashed out at a columnist who criticised it [Getty]

Twitter decided on Friday to restrict some Turkey-related content ahead of one of the country’s most important presidential elections ever, in a move that was later defended by the social media platform's chief Elon Musk.

"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," the social media company said in a statement published on the platform.

"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.

It did not give a reason behind this decision nor specify which content it would block, but it raised fears that content from the Turkish opposition could be restricted as they seek to end the two-decade rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a tough vote.

Erdogan’s government has previously blocked Twitter and other sites across the country multiple times, mainly during unrest or national emergencies. This last happened in February following the devastating earthquake.

Musk defended the move and lashed out at a columnist who criticised it.

"The Turkish government asked Twitter to censor its opponents right before an election and Elon Musk complied — should generate some interesting Twitter Files reporting," wrote Bloomberg columnist Matthew Yglesias.

"Did your brain fall out of your head, Yglesias? The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?," the Twitter CEO responded.

Journalist Brian Krassenstein requested from Musk a public announcement regarding the reasons for the block.

"We could post what the government in Turkey sent us. Will do," replied Musk.

Musk and Erdogan have met on more than one occasion, including during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year.

On Friday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on social media platforms to be more transparent in their handling of content.

"As election night draws near it is imperative that social media platforms and the wider internet remain accessible so the public can follow the work of independent election monitors and reporting around the vote count," an article published by HRW said.

"Given the sorry state of Turkey’s mainstream media, the integrity of Turkey’s election depends upon it," it added.

In recent years, and especially after a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan and his government, Ankara has moved to tighten its grip on social media and silence opposition. Hundreds of journalists, activists and politicians have ended up in jail.

The Turkish government has been slammed for its censorship.

Live Story

Over 60 million Turks are eligible to vote on Sunday, weeks after expatriate voting.

This election will decide not only who leads Turkey of 85 million, but also how it is governed, where its troubled economy is headed, and the shape of its foreign policy, which has taken unpredictable turns.

Opinion polls give Erdogan's main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who heads an alliance of six opposition parties, a slight lead.

But if either of them fails to get more than 50% of the vote there will be a runoff election on 28 May.