TURKEY

Will Turkey and Twitter Kiss and Make Up?

TURKEY
Apr 15, 2014 at 3:05 PM ET

After weeks of beef, it looks like the Turkish government and Twitter are ready to squash it.

Officials from both sides held a two-day summit in Ankara this week in an effort to settle their dispute, which stems in part from the Turkish government’s decision to shut down the microblogging site ahead of last month’s municipal elections.

The meeting was a big deal in a country where Twitter penetration runs deeper than almost everywhere else in the world, and many young people rely on the platform for news, instead of the country’s traditional media.

The spat began last summer when Erdogan called Twitter a “menace” after protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park used the service to criticize his government. But things really heated up last December after a corruption scandal seemed to point the finger at some of his allies. Even though Erdogan’s party, known by its Turkish acronym, AKP, wasn’t averse to deploying Twitter bots to spread their message, the prime minister blocked both Twitter and YouTube in March after critics leaked audio recordings onto the sites to tie the Turkish leader and his family to the wider scandal.

Erdogan denies any wrongdoing, but the prime minister faced a chorus of international critics after the ban went into effect. U.S. officials called Turkey’s decision the 21st-century equivalent of book burning, but Erdogan held firm in an apparent effort to show the world that his country isn’t a banana republic.

Earlier this month, Turkey’s top judicial body overturned the ban, saying that it violated freedom of expression. Erdogan responded by saying he didn’t respect the court’s decision, but would abide by it.

Turkey unblocked the site, but the still-smarting prime minister chastised Twitter last week, calling the San Francisco-based company a “tax evader,” and lambasting it, along with Facebook and YouTube, as a profit-seeker posing as a freedom fighter.

“We will deal with them,” Erdogan said. “They will come like every international company and comply with my country’s constitution, laws and tax rules.”

It is not yet clear if Twitter and Turkey were able to make nice, but Turkey’s semi-official Anatolian news agency insisted that the two sides found common ground.

Turkish officials reportedly urged Twitter to open an office in the country, pay taxes and remove tweets that Ankara says are damaging to national security, privacy and personal rights.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.