Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to shut down the social media network Twitter and the video-sharing website YouTube have been more controversial abroad than they have been inside Turkey. The issue fits into Turkey’s complex political landscape.
The latest Internet posting that angered the Turkish government is an audio recording and transcript of a meeting of top officials, discussing military operations and other secret matters.
As a result, YouTube was blocked throughout Turkey, as Twitter had been a few days earlier. The popular micro-blogging service based in California angered Turkish officials when a user posted an Internet link to a secret government report on corruption.
Some Turks are concerned and defiant.
One woman, Aylin Vural said,"He thinks we cannot criticize him if he shuts down Twitter, but our struggle will continue. Nothing will change despite the ban."
Another woman, Demet Toprak, added, "I wonder how far they will go to curb our freedom. First Twitter, now YouTube. What’s next? Facebook? When will this end?"
Turkey’s president joined in the criticism, via his own Twitter feed. But the anger was limited. Only 15 percent of Turks use Twitter. Only a third of the population is on the Internet at all.
That may help explain why an angry Prime Minister Erdogan drew large crowds at campaign rallies this week for local elections to be held on Sunday. He called whoever posted the secret recording “villainous” and dishonest.
“[The] majority of Turks are conservative, nationalist and religious. The key criteria for his core supporters is the state of the economy, rather than the persuasiveness of corruption allegations or the issue of media freedoms,” said Turkey expert Fadi Hakura, with London’s Chatham House.
Still, the latest moves could cut off an important avenue for political engagement by Turkey’s young generation according to Paul Dwyer of the Center for Social Media Research at London’s University of Westminster, who spoke via another Internet service, Skype. “This is one of the ways in which young people today do engage with politics, and particularly in societies like Turkey, where democracy is still a relatively new phenomenon,” he explained.
For now, internet-savvy Turks will have to rely on workarounds, some published by Twitter itself, to continue using what one expert calls their country’s “last preserve of freedom of information.”