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Twitter under fire for restricting content before Turkish presidential election

Turkey heading to runoff election
Turkey heading to runoff vote in presidential race 06:33

Twitter is drawing heat for restricting access to some content in Turkey ahead of the country's presidential election on Sunday, which is headed for a runoff on May 28 after a first round of voting failed to decide the race.

Twitter's Global Government Affairs department addressed the controversy in a tweet Tuesday, saying that it had been in negotiations with the Turkish government, which last week threatened to shut the social media platform down unless it complied in full with existing court orders. 

"We received what we believed to be a final threat to throttle the service — after several such warnings — and so in order to keep Twitter available over the election weekend, took action on four accounts and 409 Tweets identified by court order," the tweet read. 

In order to keep the service available in Turkey, Twitter censored content from four different accounts. 

The social media company added that it will continue to object in court, but that no further legal action was possible before the start of voting.

Twitter's global affairs department had indicated on Saturday that it restricted access to some content in Turkey "in response to legal process and to ensure Twitter remains available to the people of Turkey."

Critics say the move amounts to Twitter capitulating to pressure from the government of incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who failed to secure a majority of the vote but said he believes he can still win the race in a runoff election, Turkish daily Turkish Minute reported

Twitter accounts belonging to Muhammed Yakut, a Kurdish businessman who has criticized Erdoğan's regime, and Cevheri Güven, an investigative journalist, were restricted one day before the election, sparking concern the move could have an effect on the election's outcome.

A third account belonging to an anonymous, self-described activist, social media influencer and freedom fighter was also blocked in Turkey. 

Güven has investigated allegations of corruption against Erdoğan. "It's a disgrace to democracy and freedom of expression that Twitter has caved to Tayyip Erdoğan," Güven told Turkish Minute.

"We have informed the account holders of this action in line with our policy. This content will remain available in the rest of the world," Twitter added, tweeting in both English and Turkish. 

Josh Rudolph, head of malign finance at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, an initiative to deter efforts to undermine democracy, asserted that Twitter's move to restrict some users of its platform in Turkey was politically motivated. 

"Read this as: The autocratic Turkish gov't. (which shut down Twitter after the earthquake to hide criticism of Erdogan) threatened to sue and shut down Twitter unless it restricts (in some undisclosed way) what Turks see on Twitter amid tomorrow's election. And Twitter agreed," Rudolph tweeted Saturday.

Billionaire Elon Musk, who has served as Twitter's CEO, defended the social media company's decision to restrict some accounts in Turkey, suggesting that the entire platform was at risk of being made inaccessible in Turkey.

"The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?" Musk tweeted. 

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