Erdogan stifles Türkiye’s online debate ahead of Sunday runoff

Erdogan stifles Türkiye’s online debate ahead of Sunday runoff

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is poised to secure victory in Sunday’s presidential runoff election while the authorities have restricted access to social media accounts.

The third-placed candidate – nationalist Sinan Ogan – from the first round of voting on May 14 is backing Erdogan in Sunday’s runoff. It is the first time Erdogan has been forced into a second round.

“Our meetings with both candidates took place with statesmanly and mutual courtesy,” Ogan announced. “As a result of these negotiations and consultations and messages from the grassroots, I declare that we will support the president.”

Ogan said he wanted stability, in reference to the parliamentary majority already secured by Erdogan and his allies and the fractured nature of the six-party opposition alliance.

Meanwhile, Turkish Twitter users have been unable to follow several alcohol brands while online access to pornography, Kurdish media, satirical forums and thousands of other pages have been blocked.

On May 12, two days ahead of the parliamentary and presidential Turkish elections, Twitter announced censorship was being imposed “in response to legal process and to ensure that Twitter remains available to the people of Turkey”.

Twitter did not explain the legal process nor which accounts had been targeted.

Elon Musk, Twitter’s chief executive, dismissed complaints and said the authorities in Ankara had given Twitter an ultimatum. “The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?” the multibillionaire asked. Twitter no longer answers media questions.

A 2020 law requires major social media platforms to register offices in Türkiye that are answerable to Turkish courts and the broadcasting regulator. All the major platforms caved in despite criticism from rights activists.
Twitter opened its Turkish office in March 2021 and non-compliance with official requests to remove content would lead to a site being closed down.
Gabriele Racaityte-Krasauske of the free-speech Surfshark group said there was a pattern of shutdowns during inconvenient moments for Erdogan.
“This raises alarm over the possibility of further internet restrictions as the election draws near. A potential internet restriction during the election could hinder the spread of crucial information that could shape the outcome of the election, undermining the very essence of democratic elections,” Racaityte-Krasauske said.

Erdogan never smiles. Picture credit: Kremlin

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