The municipal elections in Turkey are less than eight day hence. Premier Erdogan perpetrated a foolhardy and heedless Twitter ban. He is desperate to stave off a possible last minute disclosure about more corruption revelations to possibly be released on Tuesday March 25. With this ban Turkey joins a select group of countries who have similarly banned Twitter; China and Iran. Within less than 24 hours of announcing the ban at a campaign rally Thursday, March 20th in Bursa, Turkey, it backfired. According to the website TwitTurk, more than 500,000 tweets were sent protesting the ban demonstrating how tech-savvy Turks could work around the shutdown of Twitter. Newsweek reported:
According to TechCrunch, which compared Twitter activity in Turkey in the past few days, while the ban does seem to have had some negative effect on the number of tweets coming out of the country, it may have done Erdogan more harm than good in terms of global exposure. Before Thursday, there were about 200 tweets per day around the world that mentioned both “Turkey” and “Twitter.” On Friday, there were more than 80,000.
Globally, Twitter users have begun circulating a poster designed in the style of the Turkish flag but depicting Pac-Man eating Twitter’s bird logo.
President Gul, a co-founder of the AKP with Premier Erdogan, sent a tweet objecting to the ban saying, “can’t be condoned”. But then Gul had signed a law asserting the government’s control over the internet. The absurd part of Erdogan’s Twitter ban was his own party was poised to roll out campaign solicitations for the municipal elections using the social media. The AKP deputy premier and Istanbul Mayor were still using Twitter to communicate. Lutfi Elvan (no relation to Gezi Park victim Berkin Elvan), the minister for communications , absurdly premised the Twitter ban on a court ruling related to pornographic pictures. The opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the ban was hurting Turkey’s image abroad and his party would seek to overturn it. The Turkish bar association called the ban illegal and immediately filed a criminal complaint. Twitter had unnerved Erdogan as the social media became the source of revelations from release of taped phone calls to the extent of family involvement in money laundering, and interference with the judiciary in the swirl of corruption charges.
Erdogan’s vain attempt at controlling social media, whether Facebook, Twitter or You Tube might make a difference in next Sunday’s municipal elections. His actions denying free speech and engaging in desperate cover-ups of corruption might unleash a massive wave of Turkish voters going to the polls committed to cast votes for the opposition. That might reduce the chances of Erdogan doing a kind of ‘Putin –Medeved maneuver’ if a national referendum is passed prior to the 2015 general elections creating an executive Presidency.
Twitter Power in Turkey: the death of Berkin Elvan
The power of Twitter was evident on March 10th with the announcement by the grieving parents of the passing of 15 year old Berkin Elvan using the social media . They wrote ,” We lost our son. May he rest in peace .” Elvan had lain in a coma for 269 days reduced to less than 35 pounds, after he had suffered a head injury from a tear gas canister fired by riot police during the Gezi Park protests of last June. The irony was that young Elvan was mortally injured on his way to purchase food for his family. The announcement of Elvan’s death sparked further protests against Erdogan, as he had ordered the riot police to break up the Gezi Park sit-ins. His passing marked the sixth death from the breakup of the Gezi Park sit-in protests. Those Twitter messages led to protests by ex-pat Turkish communities organized throughout the EU and large crowds that swarmed to protest rallies in Turkey. The funeral of Elvan was attended by thousands. Sheikh Mohammed Fethulleh Gulen offered his condolences to the Elvan family. But nothing from Premier Erdogan who had called Gezi park protesters, “looters”. He referred to Twitter last June as a “ troublemaker” and in February 2014 as the “robot lobby”.
Erdogan’s pique at Twitter was because of the corruption scandals revealed through the social media. Bloomberg reported :
The tweets targeted by Erdogan are primarily from two anonymous users: one going by the name of Haramzadeler, a phrase translated by Turkish media as “Sons of Thieves” though it could also mean “bastards,” and another called Bascalan or “Prime Thief,” a play on the Turkish term for prime minister.
Local media has reported that the most damaging leaks were yet to come. In a column in the Yeni Safak newspaper, Hayrettin Karaman, a retired professor of Islamic law, preemptively denied the validity of a tape he said would be aired showing him advising Erdogan on whether Islam would permit him to order the killing of politician Muhsin Yazicioglu, who died in a helicopter crash on March 25, 2009.
Twitter has become the weapon of choice seeking to topple tyranny in Turkey. There are more than 10 million Twitter users in Turkey, a testament to the use of social media to communicate the news. This despite the controls imposed on both print and other electronic media, including state TV channels. It is the 21st Century equivalent of those computers, video recorders and fax machines sent to Poland from the US by NGO’s. Using secret CIA funds and Catholic Church support that allowed Solidarity to survive the declaration of the martial law regime in 1981. Those electronic devices got ting the word out in samizdat publications that ultimately defeated the Communist government and returned Solidarity’s legal status in 1989.
The Bursa Campaign Rally launch of the Twitter Ban that failed
Premier Erdogan had earlier castigated the immorality of Twitter and other social media. On Thursday at a campaign rally in Bursa he launched his failed campaign. “We’ll dig up Twitter – all of them – from the roots,” he raged, “they’ll see the power of the Republic of Turkey”. Within a few hours of the Bursa campaign announcement the ban began in earnest when countrywide access to Twitter was blocked.
The Guardian noted the immediate responses by what it termed tech savvy Turks:
Thursday was Twitter’s eighth birthday. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s birthday present to the social media giant, and to millions of Turks who use it daily, was to block the site. At about 11.20pm Thursday, those who wanted to use Twitter were greeted by a message from the Telecommunications Presidency referencing a court order that blocked access to it.
Within minutes, detailed methods of bypassing the block by changing DNS numbers and using VPNs were shared via Facebook, WhatsApp and text message. Hashtags using the Turkish for “Twitter Is Blocked in Turkey”, “Turkey Blocked Twitter” and “Dictator Erdo?an” began trending worldwide almost immediately. When the official Turkish account of Twitter tweeted, “Turkish users can send Tweets using SMS” and gave detailed instructions, Turks were already ahead of the game.
The Irish Times noted the swift action by San Francisco-based Twitter and the resourcefulness of Turkish Twitter users:
Twitter sent out mobile numbers that allowed Turkish consumers to keep using its service. In another technical fix against the ban, Turkish downloads of Hotspot Shield, the world’s most popular virtual private network service, rose to 270,000 on Friday – from a daily average of 7,000.
The Turkish users’ defiance and the sheer scale of their activity suggest no immediate end to the battering Mr. Erdogan has suffered in cyberspace.
Adverse Comments on Erdogan’s Twitter Ban
Yesterday afternoon, “Twitter’s @Policy account tweeted that the company was opposed to Erdogan’s ban”. White House press spokesman Jay Carney said called, the Administration was “deeply concerned” about Erdogan’s Twitter ban as it undermined Turkish citizens’ “ability to exercise freedom of expression.”
The EUObserver noted these instant tweets:
The EU commissioner on digital affairs, Neelie Kroes, tweeted on Thursday (20 March) that the move “is groundless, pointless, and cowardly. Turkish people and intl [international] community will see this as censorship. It is.”
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, himself a prolific user of the US micro-blogging site, noted: “Erdogan is not only damaging himself, but his entire nation.”
The EU’s former ambassador to Turkey, Marc Pierini, now an analyst at the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels, said: “Turkey is estranging itself from the world.”
Australian film actor Russell Crowe, appearing in the latest Bible epic, “Noah” tweeted, “Turkey has banned Twitter? That is a terrible decision. I don’t understand it?”
Now, let’s see what further revelations about Erdogan’s corruption will be Tweeted on Tuesday, March 25th. As a takeoff on the radio serial program from my youth, the Shadow, might say, What evil lurks in the hearts and minds of men, only Erdogan knows, and he isn’t telling”. But Twitter soon might.