Elon Musk’s Shocking U-Turn: Controversial Tweet Censorship Exposed
May 14, 2023
Elon Musk, accused of being a free speech opportunist, allegedly succumbed to government demands to censor his tweets prior to the Turkish election. Some critics suggest that SpaceX’s business dealings with the right-wing leader of the country may have influenced this sudden change in stance.
Twitter’s Compliance with Turkish Government Raises Concerns
Elon Musk’s reputation as a staunch advocate of free speech faced another blow when Twitter complied with the Turkish government’s request to censor the accounts of political opponents ahead of a highly contested election.
In a statement released on Friday evening, around 6 a.m. local time, Twitter’s official Global Government Affairs account announced that the platform would “limit access to certain content in Turkey” in response to legal demands made by the social media platform.
According to The Washington Post, Turkey’s upcoming presidential election, which is anticipated to be the most closely contested in years, is scheduled for May 14.
In response to the news, California Representative Adam Schiff tweeted,
“On the eve of a critical election in Turkey, Twitter seems to be yielding to the demands of the country’s autocratic leader, Erdogan, and is suppressing speech on the platform. Considering Twitter’s lack of transparency, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Musk’s assurances of free speech have once again been abandoned.”
Insider’s request for comment from Schiff’s office went unanswered at the time of publication.
Turkish dissidents being targeted
The specific details of the legal request and the targeted accounts were not publicly disclosed. However, Dr. Tuğrulcan Elmas, a postdoctoral researcher specializing in social media manipulation at Indiana University Bloomington, revealed that he observed approximately six suspended accounts that had been posting content related to the Turkish election.
According to Elmas, the restricted accounts were generally those that the Turkish government had historically targeted. Because of their ties to the political opposition or people who had reported wrongdoing and criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That is, the country’s right-wing leader.
One of the affected accounts belonged to Muhammed Yakut, a Kurdish businessman. Turkish Minute reported last week that Yakut had previously shared information about Erdogan’s involvement in his son-in-law’s disappearance and alleged governmental corruption.
Moreover, Yakut hinted at disclosing background information related to a failed 2016 coup in Turkey before the election, suggesting that Erdogan and his allies may have orchestrated the event.
Turkish Dissidents Censored, Impersonation Account Allowed: Allegations of Government Propaganda Emerge
While several political opponents, including Muhammed Yakut, were subject to censorship, a troll account impersonating a whistleblower, Ali Yeşildağ, remained active on Twitter. Despite violating the platform’s terms of service and posting fabricated nude photos of Erdogan’s critics, the account was not removed.
This discrepancy led experts to speculate that the troll account might be affiliated with the Turkish government, serving as a propaganda tool to discredit Erdogan’s opponents by portraying them as engaging in blackmail. According to Dr. Tuğrulcan Elmas, the failure to ban the account suggests a potential false flag operation.
Musk’s Twitter compliance rate with government requests for censorship or surveillance has risen to more than 80%. That’s according to a report by Rest of World. As users can still post content on other platforms or circumvent bans by using VPNs. Although restricted accounts may not have a significant impact on the outcome of the election.
Elon Musk’s Response
Observers swiftly criticized Elon Musk for complying with the Turkish government’s request to limit Twitter accounts. Particularly considering Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian direction under President Erdogan since 2014. Some users on Twitter even branded Musk as a “free speech opportunist” following the news.
In response to a tweet by Bloomberg columnist Matt Yglesias, who highlighted the Turkish government’s influence over Twitter censorship, Musk defended his decision. He questioned Yglesias’s reasoning and presented the choice as either throttling Twitter entirely or restricting access to some tweets.
The conversation continued as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales joined in, contrasting Musk’s approach with Wikipedia’s commitment to defending freedom of expression. Wales mentioned how Wikipedia took a principled stand against Turkey’s ban, which was eventually lifted after a legal battle.
Supporters of Musk argued against comparing Twitter to Wikipedia, noting the nonprofit status of the encyclopedia site versus Twitter’s for-profit nature. Wales countered by suggesting that if Musk prioritized profit over freedom of expression, he should explicitly state so.
Turkish President Erdogan and Elon Musk
As Twitter limited access to Turkish accounts, connections between Elon Musk and Turkey have become more prominent. Reports suggest increasing communication between Musk and President Erdogan. Including meetings in 2017 and 2021 to discuss lithium batteries and satellite launches.
In 2022, Turkey signed a deal with SpaceX for launching Türksat 6A, its domestically produced communications satellite. Musk’s company, SpaceX, also assisted in launching Turkey’s first national observation satellite.
Some Twitter users pointed out the timing of the account restrictions in relation to Musk’s business dealings with Turkey. Questioning his stance on free speech. However, representatives from Musk, Twitter, SpaceX, and the Republic of Turkey have not commented on the matter.