Turkey Bans Twitter, Sparks User, Celebrity Backlash

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

"Shameful and Scary" tweets Elijah Wood as Turkish Prime Minister vows to "eradicate" the short messaging service.

Social media users in Turkey and outside have reacted with outrage after the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan banned Twitter in the country and vowed to “eradicate” the online messaging platform. 

Erdogan's ban comes after Twitter and other social media sites were used to circulate audio recordings, allegedly of Erdogan, discussing bribes and corruption with his son. On the tapes, the Prime Minister apparently tells his son to get rid of large sums of cash ahead of planned government raid of his house, part of a graft investigation.

Those recordings, which Erdogan claims are fake, have discredited the Prime Minister and could hurt his conservative party's chances at national elections, set for March 30. Twitter was also used by those opposed to Erdogan's rule to support last summer's protests in Gezi Park in Istanbul. 

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Erdogan has been threatening to shut down Twitter for some time now, and new Internet restrictions adopted by the government in February allowed for the swift closing of websites or removal of content by court order. Turkey finally pulled the plug on Twitter late on Thursday. Users signing in from Turkey saw a message from the country’s telecom regulator that the site was blocked for their “protection.”

The reaction was immediate. The tag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey became a top trending term worldwide within hours after the ban, with celebrities expressing their opposition to the ban and those inside Turkey finding ways to work around it.

In a statement on Thursday night, the United States State Department expressed concern over “any suggestion that social media sites could be shut down.”

“Is Twitter genuinely blocked in Turkey? If so, this is shameful and scary,” tweeted Elijah Wood, while Mia Farrow offered the advice: “Hey there friends in Turkey! You can stay on twitter via VPN and Hotspot.

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They apparently did so: Turkish users kept tweeting despite the bans. A journalist for the Hurriyet Daily News claimed there were still 17,000 tweets a minute coming out of Turkey after the ban, most of them discussing the ban itself. Some citizens repurposed election posters from Erdogan's ruling party by spray-painting on them Google's domain name system address, which helps users evade the ban. 

Turkey is one of the world's top 10 markets for Twitter, according to data from Peer Reach, which estimated as of October 2013 that the country had 3 percent of the world's Twitter users, more than France or Germany.

Social media has become an increasingly popular way for Turkish citizens to express their disapproval of Erdogan's government. The prime minister has been in power since 2003 and has overseen incredible economic growth in Turkey. But many have chafed at what they see as his increasingly oppressive and dictatorial governing style.

Email: Scott.Roxborough@THR.com
Twitter: @scottroxborough