Turkey’s courts have blocked access to Twitter days before elections as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan battles a corruption scandal that has seen social media platforms awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing.
The ban came hours after a defiant Erdogan, on the campaign trail ahead of key March 30 local elections, vowed to “wipe out” Twitter and said he did not care what the international community had to say about it.
Erdogan’s ruling AK Party has already tightened Internet controls, handed government more influence over the courts and reassigned thousands of police and hundreds of prosecutors and judges as it fights a corruption scandal he has cast as a plot by political enemies to oust him.
Turkish telecoms watchdog BTK said the social media platform had been blocked by the courts after complaints were made by citizens that it was breaching privacy.
It said Twitter had ignored previous requests to remove content.
“Because there was no other choice, access to Twitter was blocked in line with court decisions to avoid the possible future victimization of citizens,” it said.
Twitter Inc said it was looking into the matter, but had not issued a formal statement.
The company did publish a tweet addressed to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.
“Twitter, mwitter,” Erdogan told thousands of supporters at a rally late on Thursday, in a phrase translating roughly as “Twitter, schmitter.”
“We will wipe out all of these,” said Erdogan, who has cast the corruption scandal as part of a smear campaign by his political enemies.
“The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is,” he said.
Twitter users in Turkey began reporting widespread outages overnight.
Some users trying to open Twitter.com were taken to a statement apparently from another regulator citing four court orders as the basis for the ban.
Turkish Internet users were quick to come up with ways to circumvent the block. The hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey quickly moved among the top trending globally.
The disruption sparked a virtual uproar, with many comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media platforms are tightly controlled.
There were also calls to take to the street to protest, although some users equally called for calm.
Nazli Ilicak, a columnist who used to work for the pro-government Sabah newspaper described the move as “a civil coup” in an interview on broadcaster CNN Turk.