Elon Musk, who is stepping down from his role as Twitter’s CEO, has been accused of silencing critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ahead of the country’s presidential election on Sunday.
Twitter’s Global Government Affairs unit announced that the platform will “restrict” access to some content in Turkey on Friday, without specifying the names of the accounts or the type of content it will restrict.
“In response to legal process and to ensure Twitter remains available to the people of Turkey, we have taken action to restrict access to some content in Turkey today,” the social media platform said in a tweet. “We have informed the account holders of this action in line with our policy. This content will remain available in the rest of the world.”
Erdoğan is running against Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Turkey’s main opposition candidate and the head of the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP). The Turkish president, who has ruled the country since 2014 and was a top leader for 20 years, including the time he served as prime minister, has faced internal and global criticism throughout his tenure in regard to various issues that ranged from the coup attempt in 2016 and human rights violations to, most recently, his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his response to the recent earthquake that killed thousands of people in Turkey.
The Turkish leader is now facing his biggest political challenge as he runs against Kilicdaroglu, who plans to rebuild relations with Europe and the United States, which were undermined during Erdoğan’s term.
On Saturday, some Twitter users expressed their concern about the social media platform restricting content in Turkey during such a critical moment in the country’s political history.
“Very concerning: Hours before [Turkey’s] election, Twitter issues vague statement saying it’s restricted some content in #Turkey.@elonmusk, Twitter should be transparent & name accounts they blocked at Ankara’s demand. Erdogan has long history of blocking Twitter at critical moments,” Monica Marks, a Middle East politics professor at New York University of Abu Dhabi, wrote.
Erdoğan previously blocked access to Twitter temporarily in his country during different occasions, including the time the country was hit by a devastating earthquake in February, Reuters reported at the time. He also often threatened to block access to Twitter over content criticizing him, according to Rudaw Media Network.
Meanwhile, Louis Fishman, an associate professor at Brooklyn College, demanded that Twitter release the names of the accounts it’s blocking, tweeting: “Twitter needs transparency: which accounts are you blocking before the crucial elections?”
Political strategist Simon Rosenberg urged transparency, tweeting that “Twitter restricting access to accounts the day before an election in NATO member Turkey. Western/NATO governments should be demanding full, immediate transparency for what could an intervention on behalf of a Putin friendly Erdogan.”
Matthew Yglesias, a Bloomberg columnist, wrote that Twitter made the decision to restrict content based on orders from the Turkish government and that Musk “complied.” However, Musk mocked Yglesias in a comment denying that claim.
In response to Yglesias, Musk asked on Saturday: “Did your brain fall out of your head, Yglesias? The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?”
Echoing Yglesias’ remarks, Ryan Grim, the D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept, tweeted: “Looks like Erdogan demanded @elonmusk censor his political opposition a day ahead of the election and he immediately complied. Musk is either the world’s most sanctimonious hypocrite, coward and fraud or actually wants to censor the opposition to help Erdogan. Or both.”
Former Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, targeted the Twitter CEO, mockingly calling him the “free speech absolutist.”
“The free speech absolutist @elonmusk is censoring content from the anti-authoritarian Turkish side. And he is still one of the largest US government contractors,” the former congressman tweeted.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based global nonprofit, urged social media platforms to remain accessible to Turkish citizens for election updates.
“Given the sorry state of Turkey’s mainstream media, the integrity of Turkey’s election depends upon it,” the organization said on its website, referring to Turkey state media aligning with Erdoğan’s administration.
Newsweek reached out by email to Twitter’s press team for comment.