Skip to main content

Erdogan fights 'mission impossible' against Twitter

The Turkish prime minister cannot win against social media.
An image of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on a twitter account is pictured through a magnifying glass in this illustration picture taken in Istanbul March 21, 2014. Turkey's courts have blocked access to Twitter days before elections as Prime Minister 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 "wi

Over a month ago, Al-Monitor posted my article "Erdogan takes on the Internet," dwelling on the new restrictions targeting the Internet in Turkey. President Abdullah Gul’s signing of the bill — the handiwork of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — led to bitter disappointment inside and outside Turkey.

I recently reread that article, and these remarks caught my attention:

"The Internet, which Erdogan has had trouble coping with for some time, has actually become his 'public enemy number one.' It was thanks to the Internet, and especially to Twitter, that the bribery and corruption investigation was revealed."

My question at the end of the article was: “Can Erdogan also defeat the Internet?"

In the article, I compared Erdogan to Don Quixote, the hero of the immortal novel by Miguel de Cervantes, and said Erdogan was gripped by the psychosis of fighting windmills, and his fight in the virtual world won’t end with a different result. Then, I answered my own question: “For the answer to that question, you would have to reread Cervantes’ Don Quixote.”

Now, one and a half months later, access to Twitter is banned in Turkey.

In the late afternoon of March 20, Turkey’s prime minister was on the campaign trail in the major urban center of Bursa when he lambasted Twitter. "I don’t care about Twitter mivittir [roughly translated as ‘Twitter schmitter']," he shouted to thousands of people. "We will eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says."

Within a few hours, Turkey’s Telecommunications Authority (TIB), which is in charge of the country’s Internet connections, banned Turkey's access to Twitter by the request of Istanbul's chief prosecutor.

Turkey thus became the second country in the world, after China, to ban Twitter. Remember, Turkey is a member of NATO and the European Council, a candidate for European Union membership, and now, it is the first Western country to have banned Twitter. You may also add that it is the first democratic country to ban Twitter. But since a democratic country banning Twitter may be out of place, Turkey may well have lost its "democratic" label.

It is meaningless to ask why this step was taken — I have already written: "It was thanks to the Internet, and especially to Twitter, that the bribery and corruption investigation was revealed."

Here we have to recall that that the TIB's new head is the former deputy undersecretary of Turkey's secret intelligence organization, MIT, which is directly attached to Erdogan. To ban Twitter in Turkey only required the signal from Erdogan. As soon as he fired that flare from Bursa, it was done.

As the March 30 elections approach, Twitter has become a major liability for Erdogan. Twitter did not only expose controversial conversations between him, his son and various personalities of his government who were up to their necks in corruption, but it ensured they were read by a growing number of people.

The two main culprits of this menacing development have already been identified: YouTube and Daily Motion. Voice recordings loaded onto these two servers were immediately finding their way to Twitter. It is widely known that the Erdogan government had called for action from the United States and France, which respectively host YouTube and Daily Motion.

Obviously, Erdogan’s tolerance could no longer wait for the outcome of his efforts to cope with YouTube and Daily Motion. He no longer had any patience for these procedures. Wasn’t it just a couple of days ago that the Turkish Medical Union issued a statement that Erdogan was suffering from a “total crumbling of his nervous system” and he should be placed under “medical observation”?

Erdogan, as if to reaffirm these observations, began issuing threats against Twitter, and, without waiting for the outcome of his complaints against YouTube and Daily Motion, Turkey unilaterally banned access to Twitter.

But the virtual world is not a field that Erdogan and Turkey’s law enforcement authorities can fully understand and easily dominate. At first, Turkey’s Twitter users, believed to number around 12 million, did not believe that access was banned, and they quickly found ways to evade the ban and kept on using Twitter.

In a very short time, Twitter itself was used to spread techniques for accessing Twitter from smart phones, laptops, desktop computers and iPads, by changing settings, "DNS" numbers and through virtual private networks (VPN).

A San Francisco-based VPN announced it would provide free-of-charge service in Turkey. Within two hours of the ban's announcement, thousands of Twitter users were back on the service, angrier with Erdogan, mercilessly mocking him and stepping up their opposition.

The Wall Street Journal's Turkey correspondent, Ayla Albayrak, tweeted after midnight:

Online editions of many daily newspapers encouraged their readers to defeat the ban by offering guides like, “How to get over the Twitter ban.” For example, Radikal ran an article online, “How to enter Twitter.” Within one hour it had more than a million views.

Within hours Turkey’s Twitter ban became a trending topic worldwide. Hashtags were all over. #ResistTurkey, #ResistTwitter and #DictatorErdogan appeared in numbers that are sure to upset Erdogan.

Yes, Turks’ creativity was visible, with modifications of Twitter’s blue-bird logo and a cartoon showing Hitler watching Erdogan with amazement and laughter.

Erdogan’s attempt to ban Twitter quickly became a “Twitter avalanche.”

International reactions were swift to come. A US State Department statement​ referred to Turkey’s ban, expressing concern about democratic rights in Turkey. EU institutions followed suit.

Tens of millions of Twitter users read the following tweet from the EU enlargement commissar:

Although Erdogan has declared that he doesn't care what the international community says, the tweet from a veteran European statesmen of high international standing, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt — certainly one of Turkey's leading appeasers — will be noted by many. It was, after all, written by Bildt himself:

In short, Twitter defeated the “latest Turkish incarnation of Don Quixote.”

That was already an unwinnable war for Erdogan.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

Text Alerts - Be the first to get breaking news, exclusives, and PRO content.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial