Turkish President Takes to Twitter During Coup Attempt Despite Rocky History With Social Media

Turkish President on Skype - H 2016
Screengrab/Sky News

Turkish President on Skype - H 2016

As military troops attempted to seize power, Erdogan — whose whereabouts were unknown — spoke to his people through Twitter and FaceTime on Friday. In the past, he's called Twitter a "menace to society" and tried to block it in his country.

On Friday, Turkish officials claimed a coup attempt had been repelled after Turkey's armed forces declared they had taken control of the country. Explosions and gunfire rocked the capital in a night that left at least 17 dead.

People in the area were quick to take to social media to document the violence — even Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who once referred to Twitter and all social media as a "menace to society."

With his whereabouts unknown at the time, Erdogan spoke to a reporter on-air via FaceTime to send a message to his people. He also took to Twitter to encourage people to "go to the streets" in a show of support for his government. Saying "there's nothing more powerful than the people."

His usage of social media is being called out as ironic by many in the area after several years of Erdogan trying to block social media in Turkey or punishing those who use it to criticize his government.

In 2013, Erdogan, then prime minister, blamed Twitter for social unrest, calling it a “menace to society" after protesters took to Istanbul's main square. "There is now a menace which is called Twitter," Erdogan said. "The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society."

Reports abounded on Friday that Twitter and Facebook had been blocked in Turkey, but Twitter said "we suspect there is an intentional slowing of our traffic in country." Similar reports floated in 2014, when Erdogan reportedly blocked access to the site after protests. #TwitterisblockedinTurkey began trending immediately.

Erdogan claimed that Twitter failed to remove links that the Turkish government did not approve, and released the statement: "If Twitter officials insist on not implementing court orders and rules of law ... there will be no other option but to prevent access to Twitter to help satisfy our citizens' grievances." 

John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight had an entire segment about Erdogan, who prosecuted a comedian who mocked him on German television. The comic read a poem on air that poked fun at the leader, and Erdogan asked Chancellor Angela Merkel to take legal action against him in Germany. This wasn’t a unique instance, either. A doctor lost his job for sharing a meme about Erdogan earlier that year, according to Oliver's segment. And former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac posted a satirical poem on her Instagram account in 2014 and was convicted of insulting Erdogan.

The chaos on Friday comes after a period of political turmoil in Turkey, blamed on Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule, which has included a government shake-up, a crackdown on dissidents and opposition media and renewed conflict in the mainly Kurdish areas of the southeast.