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Thanks, But No: Social Media Refuses To Share With Turkey

An anti-government protester wearing a gas mask uses a cellphone to read the news on social media as demonstrators gather at midnight in Istanbul's Taksim Gezi Park on June 13.
Ozan Kose
AFP/Getty Images
An anti-government protester wearing a gas mask uses a cellphone to read the news on social media as demonstrators gather at midnight in Istanbul's Taksim Gezi Park on June 13.

Turkey's battle with the Internet took a new twist on Wednesday.

A Turkish government minister said Twitter has refused to cooperate with the government, but that Facebook had responded "positively" and was "in cooperation with the state."

Turkish Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Binali Yilderim, quoted in Turkish media, did not elaborate on what this cooperation entails. But Turkish officials have complained that social media outlets aren't sharing user access information with prosecutors and law enforcement agencies.

The story took an additional turn later in the day, when Facebook issued a statement denying that it was cooperating with the government:

"Facebook has not provided user data to Turkish authorities in response to government requests relating to the protests. More generally, we reject all government data requests from Turkish authorities and push them to formal legal channels unless it appears that there is an immediate threat to life or a child, which has been the case in only a small fraction of the requests we have received."

Turkey has stepped back from earlier calls to ban social media, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called "a menace." A few years back, Turkey did ban YouTube after videos considered insulting to modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, were posted, but the ban was largely ineffectual and was eventually lifted.

Still, the recent protests have the government searching for new restrictions. An official from Erdogan's AK Party recently said, "A false tweet is more dangerous than a bomb. Social media regulation is a must."

Turkey isn't the first country to try to rein in social media sites, which have figured in various protests and civil disobedience around the world. During the 2011 riots in Britain, lawmakers called for social networking sites to be shut down during time of unrest, and China blocked Facebook during 2009 riots.

Facebook was also blocked after Iran's elections that same year, and Egypt briefly closed it during the Arab Spring demonstrations in Cairo.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have forced Research in Motion, the makers of BlackBerrys, to comply with local regulations regarding its encrypted content that had left authorities unable to monitor communications.

And as our colleague Deborah Amos reported earlier today on Morning Edition, the Jordanian government has blocked hundreds of news websites across the kingdom amid rising dissent.

What Turkey intends to do next remains something of a mystery.

Ozgur Uckan, a new-media expert at Istanbul's Bilgi University, tells NPR that censoring social media sites presents a technical challenge, and that may be why officials are talking about criminalizing certain content, in an effort to intimidate users and encourage self-censorship.

But some microbloggers have already been targeted: Several arrests in Ankara during the protests there were of young people who had tweeted about the developing protest. In some cases, the tweets simply warned people to avoid certain parts of the city for their own safety.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.