Social media platforms pose threat to Turkey’s sovereignty: ruling party spokesman

Spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Ömer Çelik called social media companies the source of digital fascism and digital dictatorship, saying the platforms pose a threat to the country’s sovereignty.

Referring to Twitter’s move to remove posts from Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the ultranationalist tw (MHP) and limit the access to two tweets by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu due to the company’s rules about “hateful conduct,” Çelik told journalists that Twitter fails to act transparently when regulating content, according to Turkish media.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly defined social media as one of the main threats to the country’s national security.

“Social media companies have arisen as freedom platforms … but today they have been transformed into mechanisms challenging the national will, and they clash with the national will, the country’s sovereignty and the law,” Çelik said, adding that “[the companies] will bring about digital fascism and a digital dictatorship.”

A tweet posted by President Erdoğan’s far-right ally Bahçeli that referred to students protesting the appointment of a pro-government rector to Boğaziçi University as “poisonous snakes whose heads need to be crushed” has been removed by Twitter.

In his tweets, Bahçeli called those demonstrating against Melih Bulu, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) recently appointed as rector by Erdoğan, “terrorists,” “vandals” and “barbarians.”

The far-right leader is the second senior Turkish politician whose tweets about the Boğaziçi University protests have been restricted by Twitter. Twitter also limited access to two tweets by Interior Minister Soylu referring to LGBT people as “perverts” that were posted after two Boğaziçi students had been arrested on charges of inciting hatred and insulting religious values in a poster depicting the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, with LGBT flags.

Soylu earlier claimed Twitter was trying to “disrupt the chemistry of countries, democracy and peace.” The minister also posted a photo of the far-right leader’s removed tweet, saying he condemns Twitter’s “intolerant” attitude.

The Turkish government increased its pressure on social media platforms after the Gezi protests of May 2013, which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in İstanbul. Twitter emerged as alternative media and a networking tool among protestors, while the mainstream media hesitated to broadcast the popular protests at the time.

Since then, Erdoğan has listed social media as one of the main threats to national security, and the Turkish government has expanded its Internet restrictions to curb the availability of critical news and opinion, and penalized users who committed so-called anti-state crimes in the online public sphere.

According to a statement by the Interior Ministry, 39 people were detained in the first week of February for their social media posts. The cybercrimes department of the Turkish National Police investigated 1,264 social media accounts for “spreading terrorist propaganda” during that time period, the ministry said.

In July the Turkish parliament passed legislation at Erdoğan’s request, imposing far-reaching restrictions on social media platforms with over 1 million daily visitors in Turkey.

The law, which concerns YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, went into effect at the beginning of October and sets forth progressive sanctions forcing social media platforms with more than 1 million connections a day to appoint a representative in Turkey with whom the Turkish authorities can resolve problems arising from cases of insult, intimidation and violation of privacy.

The bill was criticized by human rights defenders and critics including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the UN, who expressed their concerns over the government’s move.

Turkish authorities also make an enormous number take-down and content removal requests in violation of freedom of expression and information. According to research carried out by the Freedom of Expression Association’s (İFÖD) EngelliWeb initiative, by the end of 2019 Turkey had blocked access to 408,494 websites, 130,000 URLs, 7,000 Twitter accounts, 40,000 tweets, 10,000 YouTube videos and 6,200 pieces of Facebook content.

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