You may have heard that yesterday, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “banned” Twitter in Turkey. It seems to be more than chest-thumping: The site has been experiencing widespread outages since yesterday in the country. But why would Turkey ban Twitter, and make moves to try and ban Facebook and YouTube? Here’s a brief overview as to what’s going on.
Wait, there’s no Twitter in Turkey? At all?
Well, not officially. The ban is not terribly effective, as the Twitter feed of Turkey’s president Abdullah Gül will tell you. But the site is effectively blocked on Turkish servers.
Does he just really hate hashtags?
No, he hates being clowned on an international stage by the people he’s supposed to represent. You might remember that last year, protests broke out in Turkey over a heavy-handed police reaction to a sit-in protest over an urban development plan for Gezi Park. That blew up into enormous protests across the country, largely organized through, you guessed it, social media.
Boy, they really care a lot about a park.
It was really Erdoğan and his policies at issue. Erdoğan has been seen by many as running Turkey less and less like a democracy and more and more like an authoritarian dictatorship. The protests really brought this problem into sharp relief; Turkish media tried to play it off as a minor squabble, much to the mockery of the rest of the world. The heavy-handed police violence didn’t help much either. The fact that Erdoğan was also dumb enough to do this right next to Taksim Square, a site in Turkey where twice left-leaning protesters were injured or killed by a right-wing government, did not help matters.
This is extremely oversimplifying matters: This being Turkey, there are also religious issues at play, and Erdoğan himself really should have known better, having been imprisoned for reading a poem with religious content in 1999. But the simple fact of the matter is that Erdoğan screwed up, got humiliated on the international stage for it, and now he’s going to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
…By doing something enormously visible, clumsy, and obvious.
At a guess, this is about Erdoğan’s ego. Keep in mind his first reaction to nationwide protests was to get a law put through that lets Turkish authorities shut down any website for “privacy violations.” This was met with concern and not a little contempt in the international community, and considering his equally transparent motives for the Twitter ban, it’s unlikely this will end any better for him.
The sad irony of all this is that it makes Erdoğan look like a jackbooted thug, when he and his AKP Party have been behind some fairly important positive changes for Turkey. In 2010, for example, his party led a constitutional referendum that lifted a lot of restrictions on unions, put equal rights for all Turkish citizens into the country’s Constitution, made it easier for political parties to avoid being shut down, and gave the judicial branch of the Turkish government much more strength and accountability. The AKP stabilized the economy, started EU negotiations, and generally did a lot for the country.
Apparently, though, that doesn’t extend to websites.
Will this ban work?
Pfffft, no. Turkish users can still update the site via text, and unless Turkey’s got a Great Firewall about to go up, a simple VPN will make using Twitter trivial for most people. Essentially, this is just a politician embarrassing himself. Hopefully, those involved realize that this is dumb, and let it go: All you can do when you get clowned is clean off the makeup and try not to set yourself up again.