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Turkey Moves to Block Twitter After Use by Protesters

Mon, July 1, 2013

Turks protest against the increasing Islamist policies of Prime Minister Erdogan. (Photo: © Reuters)

Turks protest against the increasing Islamist policies of Prime Minister Erdogan. (Photo: © Reuters)

Turkey has announced that it has asked Twitter to set up a representative office inside the country, which could give it a tighter rein over the micro-blogging site that Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has accused of helping stir weeks of anti-government protests.

While the mainstream Turkish media largely ignored the protests during the early days of the unrest, social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook emerged as the main outlets for Turks opposed to the government.

Erdogan has described sites like Twitter as a "scourge," saying they are used to spread lies about the government with the aim of terrorizing society (even though senior members of his party make use of the site regularly). Turkish police have targeted and detained several dozen people suspected of inciting unrest on social media during the protests.

"We have told all social media that if you operate in Turkey you must comply with Turkish law," Transport and Communications Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters.

"When information is requested, we want to see someone in Turkey who can provide it. There needs to be an interlocutor we can put our grievance to and who can correct an error if there is one," Yildirim continued.

While Ankara had no problems with Facebook, which has been working with Turkish authorities for a while and has representatives inside Turkey, Yildirim said there had not been a "positive approach" from Twitter after Turkey had issued the "necessary warnings" to the site over the matter.

"Twitter will probably comply, too. Otherwise this is a situation that cannot be sustained," Yildirim said.

Twitter declined to respond to the government request, but a person familiar with the company's thinking said it had no current plans to open an office in that country.

Turkey successfully pressured Google  into opening an office there last year after blocking YouTube, a Google subsidiary, from Turkish internet users for two years.

An official at the ministry, who asked not to be named, said the government had asked Twitter to reveal the identities of users who posted messages deemed insulting to the government or prime minister, or that flouted people's personal rights. It was not immediately clear whether Twitter had responded.

Facebook said in a statement that it had not provided user data to Turkish authorities in response to government requests over the protests and said it was concerned about proposals suggesting that Internet companies may have to provide data more frequently.

At a speaking engagement at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D. C. Twitter's Chief Executive, Dick Costolo, said that he had been closely watching the developments in Turkey, but he emphasized that Twitter had played a hands-off role in the political debate.

"We don't say, 'Well, if you believe this, you can't use our platform for that,'" Costolo said. "You can use our platform to say what you believe, and that's what the people of Turkey ... are using the platform for. The platform itself doesn't have any perspective on these things."

Rights groups have long pressed Turkey to reform their strict internet laws, criticizing the ease with which citizens and politicians can apply to have a website banned.

Turkey cites offences including child pornography and insulting Ataturk to justify blocking websites.