Elon Musk's Twitter Censors Turkish Content Ahead of Election

Twitter sidestepped free speech in Turkey during a critical moment.

What happened: On the eve of Turkey's election, Twitter restricted certain content apparently to prevent a complete shutdown of the platform by the Erdogan government. Musk defended the choice, arguing limited Twitter access was better than none for the Turkish people. This is not a stand-alone incident: In India, Twitter also complied with government requests to censor tweets about a controversial BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Between the lines: Despite foreign free speech concerns, Musk appears to mostly uphold the principle in the U.S., fostering increased debate on pandemic-related matters and cultural issues like transgenderism. He also reversed the previous Twitter management’s precedent of deep censorship ties with Washington.

What was censored? High-profile censored accounts include Kurdish businessman Muhammed Yakut, who promised to expose details about a suspected staged coup in 2016, and investigative journalist Cevheri Güven, known for reporting on Turkish government corruption. Their silencing has sparked an outcry over threats to democracy and free speech.

The backdrop: Musk's decision raises questions about potential conflicts of interest due to his business ties with countries having varying free speech norms. For instance, in September 2021, SpaceX, Musk's company, made a deal with Turkey to launch the country’s first domestically produced communications satellite.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan narrowly leads in the election, per Monday's official results, but falls short of a clear majority, prompting a runoff set for May 28. Indicators strongly suggest an impending Erdogan triumph in the upcoming vote.


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