Turkey’s president has vowed to tighten government control over social media following alleged insults directed at his daughter and son-in-law when they announced the birth of their fourth child on Twitter.
Addressing his party’s provincial leaders via a conference call on Wednesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened new legislation by the year’s end to stringently regulate “immoral” social media.
“Do you understand why we are against social media such as YouTube, Twitter and Netflix? To eradicate such immorality,” Erdogan told members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
He said his government is determined to introduce legislation that would force social media companies to establish a legal presence in Turkey.
The requirement would mean they could be held financially accountable and forced to respond to Turkish court decisions.
Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who is married to Erdogan’s daughter Esra, on Tuesday announced the birth of their fourth child, Hamza Salih, on Twitter.
The announcement was followed by insulting messages questioning the paternity.
Erdogan said investigations were under way against those who “attacked” his family by “abusing a newborn”.
“We will keep chasing these cowards who attack a family and the values they believe represented by them through a baby,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish leader blamed global social media companies with headquarters in Western nations for “turning a blind eye” to violations in Turkey.
“We experienced similar attacks in the past. The lack of monitoring on these platforms have a role in the rise of this sort of immoral behaviour,” he said.
“These platforms do not suit this country. We want these platforms to be banned, taken under control.”
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said a number of social media users had been detained overnight for allegedly posting insulting tweets.
Many Turks rallied in support of the president’s family and condemned the insults, including opposition politicians.
Ankara regularly clamps down on dissent, most recently on posts about its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is accused of targeting opposition politicians, journalists, academics and lawyers for expressing their opinions online.
Erdogan last week faced a flood of “dislikes” on YouTube while addressing youth before their exams. When the live chat was quickly closed to comments, “No Votes” started trending on Twitter.
Turkish authorities have previously imposed temporary blocks on Twitter and other social media during crises, for example, following an air attack in Syria’s Idlib that killed dozens of Turkish soldiers in February this year.
Although Erdogan’s comments came days after the reported insults on social media, his government has long been considering amendments that would enable it to keep social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in check by forcing them to remove content or risk facing heavy fines and restricted access to their platforms.
Critics fear the move is aimed at further limiting the Turkish public’s ability to access independent news outlets in an environment dominated by pro-government media.
Turkey has blocked access to thousands of websites. In January, the government lifted a more than two-year ban on Wikipedia after Turkey’s top court ruled the block was unconstitutional.
Turkey had halted access to the online encyclopedia after it refused to remove content the government deemed to be offensive.
In December 2015, Turkey’s communications regulator issued an unprecedented fine on Twitter for allowing the publication of content deemed to justify terror.
Erdogan’s aversion to social media platforms dates back to huge anti-government protests in 2013, which were often mobilised by Twitter and Facebook posts.