By Chris Lee
Social networks were instrumental in the Arab Spring movement, which started in December 2010 with the aim of bringing about governmental change in some Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Nearby Turkey has not been immune from its own social problems, which has culminated in access to Twitter being banned in the country by Prime Minister Recep ErdoÄŸan after content implying potential corruption ahead of local elections was leaked on the social network.
Turkish telecoms watchdog BTK said that the ban was instigated by privacy complaints and after Twitter had failed to remove content it had requested be taken down.
BTK’s statement read: "Because there was no other choice, access to Twitter was blocked in line with court decisions to avoid the possible future victimisation of citizens.”
ErdoÄŸan himself said: “I don’t care what the international community says at all. Everyone will see the power of the Turkish Republic.”
Has the move to ban Twitter backfired?
Turkey’s Twitter users – including President Abdullah Gül, a frequent social media user – have ignored the ban by finding ways around the ban, such as disguising the location of their computers. The hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey soon began trending after the ban came into play on 21 March. With tweets reportedly up 138% from Turkey since the blockade, could the ban have backfired on ErdoÄŸan?
"It is not legally possible to shut down the Internet and such platforms," Gül told reporters, pledging to have Turkish courts overturn the ban. "I believe this problem will be over soon. This is of course an unpleasant situation for such a developed country as Turkey, which has weight in the region and which is negotiating with the European Union. Therefore, it will be overcome soon."
The international reaction
The European Union (EU) itself was clear that it was firmly against the move, hinting that it could impact negatively its relationship with Turkey.
“The ban on the social platform Twitter.com in Turkey raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards,” according to Štefan Füle, EU commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy.
In its blog, the US Department of State described the decision to block access to Twitter as “21st century book burning”.
“A friend like Turkey has nothing to fear in the free-flow of ideas and even criticism represented by Twitter,” it said. “Its attempt to block its citizens’ access to social media tools should be reversed.”
The US Department of State’s blog added that “democracies know that public criticism holds governments accountable…encouraging open debates communicates an eagerness to improve and to grow as a country. Shutting down opposing views is not a demonstration of strength. Ultimately, the battle against the openness and connectivity embodied by the Internet is a losing one”
The blog warned that government leaders must accept that they do not have the power to prevent conversations from taking place. They only have the choice of whether to participate in them, or risk creating “a recipe for greater social unrest”.
Turkey’s ruling party appears increasingly isolated the longer the ban continues.