Musk’s X yields to Ankara’s pressure, appoints representative in Turkey

This picture created on March 20, 2024 shows the X (former Twitter) logo on a smartphone (Photo by AFP)

Social media giant X has agreed to appoint a representative in Turkey, likely fearing further sanctions after an advertising ban was imposed on the platform, according to the country’s transportation minister, Turkish Minute‘s Bünyamin Tekin reported.

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Abdulkadir Uraloğlu announced on Wednesday that X, formerly known as Twitter, has complied with the authorities’ demands by appointing a representative in Turkey.

“X will now continue its operations in Turkey with its İstanbul-based representative office,” Uraloğlu wrote on X.

Turkey banned Turkish citizens and companies from placing ads on X in July 2023 after the social media giant failed to appoint an official representative as stipulated by a 2022 amendment.

Uraloğlu said that if X had not appointed a representative, it would have faced more sanctions. “Turkey would have implemented a bandwidth restriction on the social media platform if they had not appointed a representative,” he said.

The 2022 amendment to the existing law on digital platforms stipulates a local representative residing in Turkey and requiring that representative to be a Turkish citizen.

According to critics, the change was made to gain leverage over social media giants, which previously appointed non-resident and non-Turkish representatives who could not be intimidated into doing the Turkish government’s bidding.

In recent years the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has stepped up its prosecutions of journalists, political opponents and others for criticizing the president and the government online or even just for sharing or liking critical articles on social media.

Freedom House reported last year that thousands of websites are blocked in Turkey, where the government frequently blocks access to websites and orders removal of content that expresses opposing views and that it also has a record of blocking access to popular social media networks at times of political unrest or when it anticipates criticism.

In a controversial move ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections in May 2023, X restricted access in Turkey to certain account holders to ensure the platform “[remained] available to the people of Turkey,” seen by critics as giving in to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was seeking re-election.

The company said it was limiting access to some content in Turkey to keep the platform available to all the people in the country.

The accounts that were restricted by X include those of Kurdish businessman Muhammed Yakut and investigative journalist Cevheri Güven, who had made shocking revelations about Erdoğan’s government, its ties to the mafia and its involvement in corruption.

“X, YouTube and Facebook are generally bowing to pressure from the Erdoğan regime,” Güven told Turkish Minute.

“My account was made inaccessible by X in Turkey a few days before the May 2023 elections. The Erdoğan regime welcomes the appointment of a representative of X in Turkey. He would be happy to have a representative he can imprison or pressure,” Güven said.

“When the law requiring the appointment of representatives first came out, all platforms resisted together. However, I see the government is forcing the platforms to give in one by one, starting with Facebook,” he added.

For Güven, the appointment of a representative by X could herald a new wave of pressure on independent journalists and content creators whose target audience is in Turkey.

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