As Press Freedom Dies In Turkey, Twitter Is There To Help Dig Its Grave
from the enablers dept
Turkish president Recep Erdogan figures the best critic is a silenced critic. Determined to “earn” the respect of people worldwide, Erdogan and his government have engaged in unprecedented censorship. This goes far beyond the punishment of its own citizens. Erdogan has tried to secure charges and prosecutions from other governments against their own citizens for having the temerity to not take him as seriously as he takes himself.
Erdogan takes down newspapers and platforms with equal aplomb. He does this to stop things like the following from circulating:
It doesn’t work, of course. Nothing gets censored worldwide and whatever censorship hits home can be circumvented. But of all the internet targets, Twitter is Erdogan’s absolute favorite. The Committee to Protect Journalists has done the math. Its excellent article on Erdogan’s censorship activities makes it clear that all other countries are merely pretenders to the throne when it comes to talking Twitter into doing their dirty work.
Over 1.5 million tweets have been withheld in Turkey by Twitter, thanks to Turkish government demands. Frequently targeted by removal requests are citizens who would normally be afforded extra speech protections in countries not run by a thin-skinned thug. And an American company playing ball with an authoritarian doesn’t leave much room for recourse.
When CPJ reviewed a Buzzfeed News database of over 1,700 accounts withheld in one or more countries, along with court orders uploaded by tech companies to Harvard University’s Lumen database, tweets, Twitter lists, and news reports, it was able to identify at least 59 Twitter accounts that belong to journalists and media outlets censored using the CWC tool in Turkey. As of late July, those 59 accounts had a combined following of over six million, in a country of about 11 million Twitter users.
Journalists whose accounts have been censored by CWC [country withheld content]requests told CPJ that Twitter is inconsistent with its compliance with such requests and complained about the lack of remediation options.
Journalists tweeting about the decline of press freedoms in Turkey are seeing their tweets removed by a compliant Twitter. And this is all Twitter has to say about its compliance in the decline of press freedoms in Turkey:
Colin Crowell, Twitter’s head of global public policy, told CPJ, “If [we] don’t use CWC, then the alternative is to remove [the content] globally [then] nobody can see it.”
But that simply isn’t true. Twitter has to know there’s a third option: no removal at all. Even if the request is lawful in Turkey, Turkey’s speech laws are terrible. Twitter doesn’t have to make things worse by letting the Turkish government steamroll critics via removal requests. Sure, that means it might lose access to an entire country, but it shouldn’t be so willing to be an extension of an abusive government.
It’s not just a Twitter problem. Google’s decision to help build the Chinese government a censored search engine is unacceptable, no matter how many more millions of users Google might reach.
Turkey’s government may drive the content removal business on Twitter, but there’s censorship everywhere from authoritarian regimes being aided by US companies that should act as a bulwark against tyranny. At the very least, there should be constant pushback against demands like these, rather than acquiescence under the disingenuous theory that blocking content worldwide is the only alternative.