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Twitter vows to defend privacy of Turkish users

DPA Istanbul | Updated on March 25, 2014 Published on March 25, 2014

Social media company Twitter pledged on Monday to protect the privacy of its users in Turkey, as the government intensified its blockade of the service.

“Twitter remains committed to defending the privacy of our users in Turkey – we won’t betray their trust,” said a tweet from Twitter’s public policy team.

The message, sent out in Turkish and English, came amid growing speculation that the government is pressuring Twitter for information on its users.

The government’s ban on the site has been strengthened since Friday, when it first took effect, after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to “root out” the social media platform in the wake of a widening corruption scandal.

He has made similar remarks against Facebook and YouTube. The video sharing site was banned intermittently in Turkey between 2007 and 2010.

Despite the Twitter ban, tweeting in Turkey has remained popular, with some recent days showing a higher number of tweets than comparable periods prior to the ban.

Erdogan’s latest move has brought global attention to what opposition activists say is the increased authoritarianism of the prime minister. Western countries quickly condemned the Twitter block, with a US State Department official comparing it to modern-day book burning.

“There’s no place in a democracy for this kind of clamping down on people’s right to free speech,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “Clearly this is not an action we think the Turkish government should take.” Harf said that the State Department had conveyed that message to Ankara and would continue to do so, and said there was no link between the block on Twitter and the downing of a Syrian jet on Sunday in Turkish airspace.

The US has been in contact with Twitter officials, but Harf said she had no knowledge of the US helping break the blockade.

Turkey has local elections on Sunday, with Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) likely to remain the largest party, though its share of the vote might decline.

Government against Twitter

Twitter was first blocked rather sloppily through the local domain name servers, but by Saturday the government had moved against Twitter’s IP address, forcing users to use proxy networks to access the site.

Since then, Twitter’s link shortening system, t.co, has likewise been blocked in Turkey, as authorities targeted subsidiary websites related to the company.

According to Erdogan, social media sites have “shaken families to their roots.” As such, they are a social ill that the government must fight.

Yet many senior AKP officials are on Twitter, and even President Abdullah Gul has defied the ban.

Critics say the government has targeted Twitter as it allows anonymous users to post recordings linking the prime minister and his allies to serious corruption allegations. Four ministers resigned in December, when prosecutors and the police announced arrests in a graft probe related to Iranian gold.

Virtual private networks (VPNs), run by private companies, and the Tor network, an open-source project, have become popular means for users to circumvent the ban.

More than 1 million downloads of VPNs were recorded over the weekend, according to data collectors. Several companies have publicly condemned Erdogan and promised to support Turkish users.

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Published on March 25, 2014
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