Q&A: Tackling Twitter in Turkey

Al Jazeera talks to AKP member Burhan Kuzu about the escalating row over Turkey’s Twitter ban.

'We cannot get along with Twitter' - Turkish official Burhan Kuzu defends the move to ban the microblogging site

Istanbul, Turkey – The war of words continues to reverberate in Turkey after a decision to ban Twitter and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s promise to “wipe out” the social media website.

Turkey has accused Twitter of “systematic character assassinations” after it hosted accounts with secret recordings allegedly exposing government corruption. Erdogan has called the recordings “vile” fakes concocted by his rivals.

Also on Saturday, the clampdown was reportedly expanded to Google’s Domain Name System (DNS), which had provided many Turkish Twitter users an alternative means of gaining entry.

Among the high-level officials to disregard the ban were the country’s President Abdullah Gul, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, and Melih Gokcek, the mayor of the capital Ankara and a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

While Gul criticised the ban in a few tweets, Gokcek tweeted out a spate of messages and photos.

Turkey pushed through new legislation last month allowing authorities to shut down websites and track users’ browsing histories [EPA]

Turkish Twitter users changed DNS settings and used Virtual Private Networks to reach Twitter’s website, and traffic has not dropped off significantly after the ban.

According a report from Twitturk, which records Turkish Twitter user data, more than half a million tweets were posted in just 10 hours despite the block.

The average number posted in the country is about 1.8 million per day.

Al Jazeera spoke with Burhan Kuzu, head of Turkey’s parliamentary constitutional commission and a senior member of the AKP, about the Twitter ban.

Al Jazeera: What is the reason behind blocking Twitter in Turkey?

Burhan Kuzu: We cannot get along with Twitter. This is not the first time something like this happened. In the past, Turkey had to block YouTube as well, as it did not remove the insulting content [against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey] in line with the court decisions in Turkey. Twitter does not implement the principles it uses for the US, United Kingdom, France, Canada, et cetera for Turkey. They do not recognise Turkey and Turkish court verdicts. This is the most important issue for us. There are insults, swearing and porn about Turkish citizens on Twitter.

When a court verdict is given about a complaint, Twitter does not implement it. The issue comes to a point where Turkey says, “If you do not recognise me, I do not recognise you, either”. There are millions of Twitter users here. I don’t understand why Twitter is doing this, particularly in commercial terms.

The second issue is that Twitter does not pay any taxes here although it has millions of users. There are no representatives or commercial offices in Turkey. They should fix this.

Al Jazeera: The new Internet regulations in Turkey allow authorities to block only specific web pages, not websites as a whole. The court rulings given as the base of the Twitter ban also point at specific links, not to Twitter as a whole. Why did Turkey’s telecommunications authority [TIB] block the whole social media platform?

Kuzu:If Twitter had abided by the court rulings and closed down those specific links, this would not happen. A lot of verdicts have piled up and the TIB took this decision.

Turkish and global social media users have mocked moves by the government to restrict access to Twitter [Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera: Turkey is the only country among the European Union member or candidate states to ban Twitter. Don’t other nations face the same problems with the website?

Kuzu: In the countries I referred to before, Twitter follows related court verdicts. Or some European countries can handle some content as a society while Turkey cannot. There is content where photos of women are used in porn through Twitter. Turkish society cannot handle that. It is a matter of perception.

Two young people were sentenced to four years in prison each for inciting riots in England. In France, it is not allowed to spread content against Jews and Armenians. And Twitter follows these regulations in cases of complaints… We are not happy about the blocking of Twitter either. I am a user myself.

Al Jazeera: What do you think about AKP members breaking the ban and tweeting right after Twitter was blocked?

Kuzu: We should not think of it as breaking the ban with a motivation to protest it. They might have done it in a moment of urgency, in order to announce something. It is not an act against the decision.

Al Jazeera: Do you think the blocking of Twitter will affect the results of local elections?

Kuzu: I don’t think it will have a major influence. There might be a partial effect on young people. Older generations are aware of the reasons for the ban. We are trying to explain the reasons to the youth.

Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras

Source: Al Jazeera