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Turkish residents are struggling to access Twitter in the aftermath of the earthquake


Survivors in Turkey are finding their access to social media platforms Twitter and TikTok limited in the wake of Monday’s devastating earthquakes that flattened buildings and killed more than 12,000 people, potentially complicating rescue efforts.

According to internet surveillance group NetBlocks, Turkey’s Twitter service was limited on Wednesday. TikTok also acknowledged in a statement that its users in the country had problems accessing the social media platform.

While it wasn’t immediately clear why, experts suspect it may be related to government censorship.

NetBlocks has followed a “gradual implementation of the mitigation, moving provider by provider,” said NetBlocks CEO Alp Toker. Those limits are “consistent with known forms of censorship in the country.”

Speaking at the headquarters of Turkey’s disaster relief agency, Vice President Fuat Oktay blamed technical difficulties for the outage and said other social media sites were still available. The Turkish government did not respond to a request for comment.

TikTok says in a statement that it is investigating the matter. We “hope access is restored as soon as possible, as platforms like TikTok remain a critical way to stay in touch during crises.”

Ömer Fatih Sayan, Turkey’s deputy minister of transport and infrastructure, met with Twitter officials in a video conference on Wednesday, according to Anadolu, a Turkish state news organization. Sayan reminded Twitter that the social media company is legally responsible for preventing the spread of disinformation that can lead to panic and chaos.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The social media site suffered what appeared to be a wider global outage on Wednesday.

Facebook parent company Meta and Google’s YouTube did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In particular, reduced access to Twitter could hamper Turkish citizens’ ability to obtain credible information about their loved ones and resources in the wake of Monday’s powerful earthquakes in southern Turkey and northern Syria. The move also leaves civil society organizations and relief workers with fewer social media platforms to coordinate rescue missions and relief efforts.

“Twitter has been an absolute lifeline in the aftermath of the earthquakes, both for rescuers seeking help and coordinating the delivery of rescue equipment, and for those searching for missing loved ones,” Toker said. “There is no obvious replacement to fill the gap.”

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Authoritarian governments around the world have been cracking down on social media networks in recent months. Last year, Nigeria suspended Twitter for two days after the social media giant blocked the president’s account after vowing to punish separatists accused of attacks on federal property. Similarly, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin tried to further restrict access to social media platforms, even going so far as to ban Facebook and Instagram.

Historical leaders in JapanRussia, South Korea, Turkey and India are among the most common countries to legally require Twitter to remove content from its platform.

“We have the illusion of a global Internet where everyone can communicate freely,” said James Lewis, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But in India and Turkey, “governments there want to control the narrative and they want to make sure that people don’t get news they don’t want them to get and they don’t have a place to discuss things that the government doesn’t want.” I don’t want them to argue.’

In the aftermath of the earthquake, a number of users said their access to Twitter was largely blocked or restricted without using a VPN. Many condemned what they suspected was a government decision to do this, saying it couldn’t have come at the worst time.

“If [the decision] was created to combat disinformation, provocation, fake news, etc., this is a very wrong step. This is not the method. In a time like this, this restriction is insane!” wrote Ersin Çahmutoğlu on Twitter.

Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, said the government may have imposed this measure in retaliation for the criticism it has recently received.

“Regardless of what authority ordered it and their legal reasoning, it is certain that the government, including the president, is annoyed by the growing criticism of them in terms of dealing with the aftermath of the earthquakes,” he said.

And with the upcoming general election in May, the “government is clearly not happy with this criticism and wants to control communications,” he added.

Turkey has a long history of restricting social media platforms during national emergencies, terrorist attacks or political incidents, arguing that the government is ensuring national security or preventing the spread of disinformation.

“Autocratic leaders like Erdogan often use “law enforcement in the aftermath of a disaster” as a pretext to restrict speech, especially speech that could be critical of their handling of the disaster,” said Nathan Kohlenberg, a research associate with the Alliance for Securing. Democracy at the German Marshall Fund.

In November, authorities restricted social media platforms on multiple internet providers after an explosion in Istanbul, where President Erdogan ordered access to the platform restricted for 8 to 11 hours, according to Netblocks.

Turkey tried to ban Twitter altogether in 2014 after a scandal over recordings allegedly exposed corruption in the government of then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Last year, Turkey passed a law imposing jail time on anyone who has spread misinformation to instill fear and anxiety in the public.

And the Turkish parliament passed a law in 2020 requiring social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to have representatives in Turkey who can handle requests to have content removed from their platforms or else be subject to fines or restrictions on use. Turkey requested content to be removed from Twitter more than 4,300 times between July and December 2021, according to the company’s latest transparency report. The company complied 57.9 percent of the time.

Zeynep Karatas contributed to this report from Sanliurfa, Turkey.

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