Twitter Restricted in Turkey Following Earthquake: Image: Adobe Stock

Twitter Restricted in Turkey Following Earthquake

Social media platform Twitter has been restricted in Turkey, following an earthquake that shocked the globe. What does this means for Turkey?


Twitter Restricted in Turkey Following Earthquake: Image: Adobe Stock

Twitter users in Turkey have struggled to access the social media platform following a 7.8-magnitude earthquake on Monday, 6 February in southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria.

This is not the first occurrence of social media restrictions in Turkey—the government has a history of limiting access to users following national emergencies and scandals.

The Turkish Government has made no official statement about the service disruption, however they have issued a number of warnings against spreading misinformation on social media. 

Turkish police have already detained over a dozen people since the earthquake due to social media posts criticizing the government’s handling of the disaster.

Over 33,000 people have been killed in both Turkey and Syria since Monday, and countless users have commented on a lack of search and rescue efforts in Turkey.

Why Can Users Not Access Social Media in Turkey?

Since the earthquake, many Twitter users have not been able to access the platform through major Turkish mobile providers. It’s still been possible to use the social media network through a VPN that changes the user’s location.

Twitter owner, Elon Musk, said in a tweet that the company had “been informed by the Turkish government that access will be re-enabled shortly”. Though he did not state when that would be. 

TikTok also commented on the reduced access, saying they “hope access is restored as soon as possible as platforms like TikTok remain a critical way to stay in touch during crises”.

Vice President of Turkey, Fuat Oktay, claimed the issues were down to technical problems, stating that other social media networks were still working.

Has the Turkish Government restricted Twitter?

Many believe that the current controls are a response to the growing criticism the Turkish Government have faced for its handling of the earthquake.

Though the Turkish Government has not taken responsibility for the problem, the director of internet-monitoring group NetBlocks, Alp Toker, commented that the restrictions are “consistent with known forms of censorship in the country”. 

Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, said:

“Regardless of which authority ordered it and their legal reasoning, it is certain that the government, including the president, is annoyed with the growing criticism toward them in terms of handling the aftermath of the earthquakes.”

With the general election in May, the government has been accused of controlling communication in the country in order to protect President Erdogan’s reputation.

Turkey’s History of Restricting Social Media

The Turkish Government has a long history of restricting access to social media platforms during national emergencies, terrorist attacks, and political incidents.

Government officials have claimed social media restrictions have been implemented to help prevent the spread of misinformation and safeguard national security.

As recently as November 2022, Turkish authorities placed social media restrictions on a number of internet providers following an explosion in Istanbul. 

In 2014, the government even attempted banning Twitter completely after recordings were said to reveal corruption within Erdogan’s administration.

Other countries that have restricted social media

Turkey is not the only country to enforce social media restrictions on its citizens. 

In 2021, Nigeria suspended Twitter after the platform froze the Nigerian president’s account following his controversial comments around the punishment of separatists. Russian officials also sought to ban Facebook and Instagram during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Many other nations, including India, Japan, and South Korea, have also legally demanded Twitter to remove content.

The Importance of Social Media During Emergencies

Social media platforms have long been a vital part of communication during times of crisis. Reducing access could prevent Turkish citizens from contacting their loved ones and confirming they’re safe, as well as accessing critical information about resources and safety guidelines.

Many civil society groups and emergency responders also use social media to coordinate aid-delivery and rescue missions. Without access to Twitter, these efforts are much harder. 

Alp Toker from NetBlocks commented on the importance of social media during these times, saying:

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

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