Turkish gov’t restricts Twitter following deadly earthquake in Turkey, Syria

Photo: techcrunch.com

The Turkish government restricted Twitter on multiple internet providers following a deadly earthquake that killed thousands in Turkey and Syria, global internet monitor NetBlocks reported.

“Network data confirm the restriction of Twitter on multiple internet providers in Turkey as of Wednesday 8 February 2023. The incident comes as authorities raise concerns over disinformation online, although no formal explanation has been provided, NetBlocks said.

Turkey’s most powerful earthquake in almost 100 years struck near the city of Gaziantep, which is home to around 2 million people and on the border with Syria, on Monday, killing more than 12,000 people in Turkey and neighboring Syria.

Following the earthquake, the Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK) restricted the bandwidth of Twitter, where people posted information about earthquake victims who need urgent help.

Turkey has a longstanding policy of restricting access to social media platforms following natural disasters, explosions, political incidents and terrorist attacks, and it has been criticized for limiting access to support and assistance and curtailing press freedom in times of emergency.

A “disinformation” law, which cements the government’s already-firm grip on social media platforms and news websites while criminalizing the sharing of information, was approved by parliament with the votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in October, although it was vehemently opposed by Turkey’s main opposition groups.

The legislation, which came in advance of a presidential election, was described by critics from within and without Turkey as yet another attack on free speech.

Criticism of the law mainly focuses on Article 29, which amends the Turkish Penal Code by adding a provision (Article 217/A) that would subject persons found guilty of publicly disseminating “false or misleading information” to between one and three years in prison and would increase by half the penalty for offenders who hide their identity or act on behalf of an organization.

On Tuesday the Turkish government introduced a smartphone application allowing users to report people who are believed to have produced or disseminated fake news or disinformation online as the country grapples with the repercussions of the powerful earthquake.

Turkey’s Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun in the early hours of Tuesday announced that the application, called “Disinformation Reporting Service,” was made available for download on both iOS and Android devices.

The government is accused of failing to mobilize enough people for recovery efforts and a lack of coordination among the teams, which resulted in civilians in some regions trying to pull their loved ones from under the rubble themselves and finding them frozen to death although they sustained no critical injuries in the collapse.

Many social media users also complained about the lack of basic necessities, such as water, blankets and tents as well as medical supplies.

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