Turkey has severely restricted access to Twitter as of Wednesday afternoon, following Tuesday’s announcement of a new reporting service for online ‘disinformation’.
London-based Internet monitor NetBlocks confirmed SNI filtering on major internet service providers (ISPs) TTNet and Turkcell, after a spike in users reporting that they could not access the popular short-form social media platform around 13:30 local time.
The restriction can be overcome with the use of virtual proxy networks, or VPNs, which the Turkish public is familiar with due to a long history of internet restrictions in the two decades of Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule. The AKP government also amended the laws on online communications last year, enabling further crackdown and limitations.
“This Palace regime that has lost its mind has cut off social media communications, the result of which is the stifling of calls for help,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said in a tweet announcing his and his party members’ use of VPN services.
Journalist Cüneyt Özdemir said TikTok was also “officially restricted” in Turkey. Others have reported still being able to access the video sharing platform.
On Tuesday, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun announced the launch of a new Disinformation Reporting Service, inviting people to “download our app and report manufactured and disseminated news stories about the earthquake that you believe are suspicious/lying”.
Altun had pleaded with Elon Musk to “pay special attention to disinformation and misinformation efforts” on Twitter mere hours after the quake.
So far, 202 people have been investigated for “provocative posts to incite fear and panic”, and among them 18 have been taken into police custody. Five of the detainees have already been sent to prison, according to a statement by the Security Directorate.
Political scientist Özgün Emre Koç was among those detained over social media posts and charged with incitement to hatred.
“There are thousands of soldiers in the established barracks in Hatay alone. There is a commando brigade, mechanised units that could reach any destination, there are regimental commands… They could have cleared rubble and distributed blankets and soup if they could do nothing else. You did not let them. You are traitors,” Koç wrote in a tweet that was subject to investigation.
The emergency response capacity of Turkey’s armed forces has been poorly utilised since the earthquakes, drawing much criticism from citizens.
Another five detainees were young men prank calling survivors who shared phone numbers on social media, hoping to be contacted by rescue teams. Two of them were sent to prison.