Twitter reluctant to act on local laws

By M. Bilal Kenasari and Mustafa Caglayan, Friday, March 21, 2014

While Twitter shows one of its goals as 'taking applicable local laws into consideration', it appears it only acts for certain countries.

While Twitter shows one of its goals as 'taking applicable local laws into consideration', it appears it only acts for certain countries.

ANKARA - A double standard was exposed on Thursday night when Turkey's official telecommunications authority revealed that Twitter remained indifferent to Turkey's court rulings to remove some web links.

"Our goal is to respect our users' wishes, while also taking into account applicable local laws,” says Twitter's censorship policy regarding witholding content in specific countries.

Despite this stated principle, the popular social media site chose to remain unresponsive to verdicts issued by the Turkish courts that ruled on the removal of certain links on the grounds of violations of personal rights and privacy.

This reluctance forced Ankara to block access to Twitter, kickstarting a hot debate on freedom of expression in an already tense country.

But Turkish authorities argue that Twitter has to respect Turkey’s official decision as it is one of Twitter's goals to work in accordance with a country's local laws.

"When it comes to the U.S. or U.K., Twitter goes by the book; then why doesn't it obey the rules of law in Turkey? This is the question to be asked," Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said Friday, speaking in a private TV interview.

"I am an active Twitter user with plenty of followers. I am saddened by the block, but no institution has a right to see itself above the rule of law in a country," he said.

Simsek also urged Twitter to respond to decisions taken by Turkish courts just like it does concerning the court decisions taken in the U.S. and U.K.

Commenting on the blockage, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci called Twitter's ignorance of court verdicts taken in Turkey as an "attack on sovereignty."

"I condemn Twitter for not acting in accordance with the court rulings and we all back the Prime Minister's reaction to the issue," he said. 

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted at a local election rally on Thursday that Turkey would opt to block Twitter based on court orders.

Hours after Erdogan's statement, the Prime Ministry announced that "In line with these court orders, the Presidency of Telecommunication initiated necessary proceedings [to have the links removed], but Twitter officials remained indifferent to these demands." 

- Double standard?

However, it swiftly blocked access to the account of a neo-Nazi group in Germany in 2012 after requests from German authorities, who outlawed the right-wing group after freezing its assets.

The move marked the implementation of Twitter's censorship policy, which stiplulates it block content in specific locations if it violates the country’s local laws.

Similarly, Twitter was forced to act when an anti-Semitic campaign in France that year spawned 350,000 tweets.

The micro-blogging site removed the entire set of tweets that contained the hashtag #unbonjuif, after the Union of Jewish French Students took legal action to demand that identities of users who contributed to the campaign be revealed and their tweets deleted.

“If we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time,” Twitter's censorship policy says.

However, unlike Germany and France, Twitter is not cooperating with some countries like Pakistan, as authorities in Pakistan felt obliged to block access to Twitter in 2010 when a contest was held asking people to draw images of the Prophet Muhammad named “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” - a move that many Muslims would find offensive as Muhammad's image is famously not depicted in Islam. Pakistani officials said that Facebook was cooperative in shutting down the offensive page, but they had heard no response from Twitter.

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