People hold placards as they protest against Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after the government blocked access to Twitter in Ankara, on March 21, 2014.
Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

‘Everyone will witness’ Turkey’s Twitter fiasco

Updated
This probably seemed like a good idea at the time.
“Twitter, mwitter!” Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cried on Thursday.
 
Rough translation: Twitter, schmitter!
 
This was the last thing Erdogan said Thursday before the lights went out on Twitter near midnight. “We now have a court order,” declared Erdogan, who’s ensnared in a scandal inflamed by social media over recordings that purportedly reveal corruption in his administration. “We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.”
Oh, everyone’s witnessing it all right.
 
The funny thing about a global social-media platform, as some are starting to notice today, is that it’s not as easy as Erdogan might think to shut down by way of an order from a Turkish court.
 
Indeed, there are 12 million people online in Turkey, and quite a few of them – including some high-ranking government officials in the country – found it quite easy to tweak their domain settings and circumvent the Prime Minister’s effort to “eradicate” the communications tools.
 
Making matters worse, the pointless effort drew considerable international attention, all of it bad.
 
“The United States is deeply concerned that the Turkish government has blocked its citizens’ access to basic communication tools,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “We oppose this restriction on the Turkish people’s access to information, which undermines their ability to exercise freedoms of expression and association and runs contrary to the principles of open governance that are critical to democratic governance and the universal rights that the United States stands for around the world.”
 
Turkey, let’s not forget, is also under consideration for membership in the European Union, and stunts like these won’t help. “As a candidate country,” the British Foreign Office said, “it is important for Turkey to promote the E.U.’s core values of freedom of expression, democracy and the rule of law.”
 
And perhaps most important of all is the reason Erdogan made the move in the first place.
 
When there are corruption allegations, and a government’s instinct is to address the charges by attacking the communications tools people are using to discuss the allegations, it’s time for officials to reevaluate their priorities.
Since December, when a corruption investigation ensnared government officials and businessmen, including the son of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, social media networks including Twitter and YouTube have become critical alternatives to traditional media outlets. A barrage of leaks of dozens of phone calls and documents posted by unidentified critics has presented Mr. Erdogan with perhaps the biggest challenge in his 11 years in office.
 
Some of the leaks related to efforts by Mr. Erdogan to control the media in Turkey, where, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 40 journalists were in jail in 2013. The prime minister was accused of making personal calls to media executives and seeking to have vocal critics fired. The government called the recordings fakes, although independent analysts said they were authentic.
 
One recording purported to be of the prime minister telling his son to get rid of large sums of cash on the morning of Dec. 17, when the homes of three former ministers’ sons were raided. Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly – and angrily – insisted that the recording was fake.
And he may be right; I’m not in a position to evaluate the evidence. But common sense suggests the best way to disprove allegations is to rely on facts and evidence, not government censorship.
 

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'Everyone will witness' Turkey's Twitter fiasco

Updated