Twitter restricted in Turkey following criticism of gov't quake response despite rescue efforts

Twitter was restricted in Turkey for about nine hours following severe criticisms of the government’s response to the two major earthquakes that struck the southeastern region. The social media app was a key communication platform for thousands of people to share information and location about their beloved ones under the rubble to help them to be rescued.

Duvar English

Twitter users on Feb. 8 experienced problems accessing the social media platform in Turkey. 

The restriction move came after severe criticisms of the government’s response to the two devastating quakes that shook the southeastern region of the country early on Feb. 6.

For example, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdardoğlu has criticized the government over the widespread destruction caused by the quakes in a video recorded in the quake-stricken Hatay province, saying President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP government has not “prepared the country for the earthquakes” despite being in power for over 20 years.

Moreover, rescue teams and survivors in quake-hit provinces are struggling with communication problems amid reports that there are still several collapsed buildings that are untouched due to lack of equipment and experts.

Several people accessed Twitter by using VPN services.

The move immediately stirred a huge reaction as Twitter was a key communication platform for thousands of people to share information and location about their beloved ones under the rubble to help them to be rescued.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said “This insane Palace government cut off social media communication. The result is less cries for help. We know everything you're trying to hide. We await your explanation.”

Opposition Good (İYİ) Party leader Meral Akşener said “While communicating is of such vital importance to announce the needs of earthquake victims; How come you impose a restriction? What kind of evil is this? What kind of dishonesty is it? Who and why are you afraid?”

Workers' Party of Turkey (TİP) head Erkan Baş said “Restricting Twitter is nothing more than silencing earthquake victims and their relatives who have been asking for help from under the rubble for three days and sharing their location. This cowardice is too much even for you… Remove the restriction immediately!”

"Would Twitter be blocked on a day when communication saves lives? What kind of incompetence is this? Citizens are trying to download VPN apps. VPN increases battery usage. What are you doing!" opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) leader Ali Babacan said.

"I can't express my feelings in a way that I wouldn't go to jail," famous Turkish actor Feyyaz Yiğit said.

"Restricting social media and internet communication while the President is in the quake-hit region so that the negative reactions are not shared to the public is just fear of the truth and weakness. Those who govern the Republic of Turkey should consist of people with high self-confidence," Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu said.

Earlier on the same day, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the nation should only pay attention to remarks coming from the authorities and ignore people he labelled as "provocateurs.”

A similar move came after the deadly Istiklal blast on Nov. 13, as the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) limited the bandwidth of internet platforms, citing “the unrealistic posts that emerged after the bombing” as the reason.

CHP lawmaker Tuncay Özkan said he went to the BTK headquarters with CHP deputy chair Ahmet Akın "to obtain information" about the restriction.

"Currently, there is no official in the BTK headquarter. There is only the head of the department responsible for administrative affairs. S/he doesn't know anything either," Özkan said.

A few hours later, access to Twitter has been reenabled. "Twitter pledged to cooperate more with Turkey in the fight against disinformation," state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

"Twitter has been informed by the Turkish government that access will be reenabled shortly," Twitter's CEO Elon Musk said on Feb. 9.

Two major earthquakes, one in magnitude 7.7 and the other in magnitude 7.6, struck southeastern Turkey on Feb. 6

The death toll on Feb. 9 has risen to 12,873 with experts estimating that the toll will further increase in the upcoming days. About 63,000 people have been injured.

The number of demolished buildings has been recorded as 5,775. The rescue efforts still continue on the third day after quakes.

Some 13.5 million people have been affected in 10 provinces, in an area spanning 1,000 square kilometers.

Geologist Prof. Dr. Övgün Ahmet Ercan estimated that the number of people under rubble is 184,000.