Turkey's prime minister accuses Twitter of being a "tax evader"

Three weeks after the country lifted a ban on the social media site, Twitter execs meet with officials in Turkey

By Sarah Gray
Published April 16, 2014 5:13PM (EDT)
           (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-932215p1.html'>turtleteeth</a>, <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-708184p1.html'>Rashevskyi Viacheslav</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>/Salon)
(turtleteeth, Rashevskyi Viacheslav via Shutterstock/Salon)

A delegation from Twitter is currently in Turkey to meet with government officials; the meeting took place a little over two weeks after the country lifted its ban on the social media site.

Twitter's vice president and head of global public policy, Colin Crowell, told the Wall Street Journal that the meetings were to repair "ties and open relations" between the company and the country. The meetings were also to explain Twitter's process for responding to court orders and content removal requests.

On Monday, just days before the meetings, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Twitter a "tax evader" and said he would "go after" the company and other social media sites that do business in Turkey but do not have headquarters there (a step in the direction to pay taxes).

According to Crowell taxes were not discussed in the meeting, and there won't be a Twitter HQ in Turkey any time soon. "We didn't agree to open an office," Crowell told the Wall Street Journal. "Our decisions to open offices around the world are based upon whether the underlying economic climate justify it."

Prior to the meeting, Twitter removed content requested by five court orders, and according to a local news organization, Anadolu Agency, the social media site said it would respond faster to remove sensitive content. "Crowell said Twitter is ready to deploy local content bans, and Nu Wexler, a Twitter spokesman, confirmed to Mashable that the company has blocked some accounts, but only within Turkey," Mashable reported.

On March 20 -- 10 days before local elections -- the government, via a court order, banned Twitter. "We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter," Prime Minister Erdoğan said at a campaign rally. "I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic." Ten days later the country also blocked YouTube -- that ban is still in place.

The Turkish Telecommunications Authority originally blocked access to the site, saying it did not follow a court order to remove content. According to Twitter it did not receive the judicial orders until after the ban was in place. "Two of the three court orders relate to content that violated our own Rules and is already suspended," said a statement released by Twitter on March 26. "The last order instructed us to take down an account accusing a former minister of corruption. This order causes us concern. Political speech is among the most important speech, especially when it concerns possible government corruption."

In December of last year a series of incriminating audio files were leaked, and subsequently spread via YouTube and Twitter. The files implicate the prime minister's son, media officials and possibly Prime Minister Erdoğan of controlling the media, having opponents fired and other corrupt acts.

An appeal was filed by the Turkish Bar Association, Journalists’ Association of Turkey and a few members of the opposition party. To the ire of Erdoğan, a Turkish court overturned the ban six days later.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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Innovation Silicon Valley Taxes Turkey Twitter Twitter Ban