Twitter restrictions in Turkey unprecedented during a natural disaster, org says [Updated]

Twitter restrictions in Turkey unprecedented during a natural disaster, org says [Updated]
Feb 2023

Update, 7:50 pm ET: Twitter CEO Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday evening to confirm that "Twitter has been informed by the Turkish government that access will be reenabled shortly." Within the next hour, NetBlocks tweeted to confirm that "access to Twitter is being restored in #Turkey following hours of filtering." According to NetBlocks, "the restoration comes after authorities held a meeting with Twitter to 'remind Twitter of its obligations' on content takedowns and disinformation."

Original story: Search and rescue efforts continue after earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria on Monday, displacing thousands and killing more than 11,000, AlJazeera reported. Amid this ongoing emergency, a new report suggests that Twitter access has been restricted in Turkey, cutting off a critical social media tool that rescue efforts rely on to quickly communicate needs and request assistance globally.

The independent global Internet monitor NetBlocks reported Wednesday morning that network data confirmed that Twitter has been restricted on multiple network providers, including TTNet and Turkcell. There has been "no formal explanation" from Turkey authorities, but NetBlocks notes that Turkey often acts to prevent alleged disinformation during national emergencies, as it did last year following a terrorist attack, and it has "an extensive history of social media restrictions" during such events.

Alp Toker, NetBlocks' director, told Ars that this is the first time NetBlocks has detected what appears to be social media restrictions in response to a natural disaster, though. Toker says the negative impact of imposing such a restriction at this moment "can't be understated."

"Twitter has been in use extensively in the aftermath of the earthquakes, both to seek assistance and rescue equipment and by those trying to get back in touch with loved ones," Toker told Ars.

Some Twitter users, including sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, have reported additional unconfirmed reports that TikTok access is also being restricted. Ars could not reach Tufekci for comment, but she promised to provide an update on her Twitter "if there's an official announcement or explanation of what's going on."

Ars could not immediately reach Turkey authorities, Twitter, or TikTok to confirm reports. [<strong>Update: A TikTok spokesperson told Ars, "We are aware of reports from users that they are having trouble accessing Internet applications in Turkey, including TikTok. We are investigating the matter and hope access is restored as soon as possible as platforms like TikTok remain a critical way to stay in touch during crises."]

NetBlocks and Tufekci reported that users in Turkey are still able to access Twitter and TikTok by using virtual private networks (VPNs).