Turkey has greatly stepped up its efforts to rein in social media, accounting for more than 90 per cent of all posts withheld by Twitter worldwide during the second half of 2014, according to initial data released by the company on Friday.
An early version of Twitter’s six-monthly transparency report showed that during the period the group withheld access to 1,820 tweets following requests by the Turkish authorities — a figure that compared with a reported global tally of 1,982 tweets that it blocked or removed.
The total was also almost 10 times greater than the 183 tweets withheld at the Turkish authorities’ request during the first half of last year, a period when the Turkish government briefly barred access to both Twitter and YouTube. Ankara was eventually forced to scrap the bans by the country’s constitutional court.
Twitter withdrew some of the data later on Friday, indicating it had been prematurely released. The company said the full report would be released on Monday.
The initial data showed that the number of Turkish court orders requesting that Twitter remove content increased more than fivefold in the second half of last year compared with the first six months, up from 65 to 328.
The number of accounts specified by Turkish requests to remove content, which also include requests made by government agencies, went up from 304 to 2642 in that period.
Turkey is thought to have more than 12m Twitter users — a relatively high proportion of the country’s overall internet users — out of a total of some 288m Twitter users worldwide.
The data for requests for Twitter posts and accounts to be blocked do not include wholesale bans on the micro-blogging site in countries such as China and Iran.
A team from Twitter visited Istanbul and Ankara this week to meet Turkish authorities in the wake of the upsurge in such requests.
Some Turkish analysts say the government has become increasingly active in clamping down on freedom of expression online in recent months, replacing last year’s blanket bans on social media with more specific attempts at censorship and judicial intimidation.
“These figures encapsulate what Turkey is currently living through in terms of online censorship and censorship in general,” said Yaman Akdeniz, a lawyer who successfully argued against last year’s Twitter ban but who has now turned his attention to Twitter itself for complying with Turkey’s blocking requests. Last month Mr Akdeniz and another lawyer warned the group of possible legal action if it continued to accede to such requests.
Twitter’s supporters say it complies with Turkish blocking requests because the alternative of another wholesale ban is worse for freedom of expression. It has also appealed against Turkish blocking orders, but with limited success in local courts to date.
Some analysts expect the pressure on both online and traditional media to increase ahead of June parliamentary elections. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s paramount leader, has repeatedly claimed that the country has the “freest media in the world”.