Social media ban in Turkey: what does it change in terms of the country’s ‘status’?

More or less a week before Turkish local elections, Prime Minister Rayed Erdoğan decided to put a ban on Twitter owing to a court’s decision which practically ‘rooted out’ the social media, as the Prime Minister previously publicly announced. The motivation behind the court’s decision? The leaking of wiretapped recordings on the social media, supporting the allegations on the government’s corruption case which has already caused a number of arrests among the AKP members and Erdoğan’s inner circle. The ban of the social platform was allegedly due to the owner’s denial to comply with the Turkish court orders seeking the removal of the mentioned links[1]. Immediately afterwards, on 27th March 2014, the Government suddenly decided to forbid also access to YouTube as a result of the publication of some Officials’ conversation about Syria on the same website.

Although the security – based reasons that the Prime Minister used to justify the mentioned measures, it is undoubtable that these represent Erdoğan’s very last attack to freedom of expression which brings the country one step closer to authoritarianism. In fact, contrarily to the promising pro-democratic beginning of the AKP ruling, during the last couple of years the government revealed increasing autocratic attire. From the crackdown of the protests in Taksim square, moving to the corruptions scandals (and to the relative attempts to influence the judiciary on the issue), the recent news demonstrate the scarcely democratic nature of the AKP or, at least, of Erdoğan’s intentions.  So far, freedom of expression has never been that protected in Turkey, though. The country was already labeled as the ‘biggest prison for journalists in the world’ and the international organizations, in particular the EU, have always blamed this fact. Not to mention the control which the government imposed on the media through intimidations – leading to a wide spread self-censorship, for instance. Other measure included tax investigations and the selling of companies to government -affiliates individuals.  However, thanks to the international distractions provided by the ‘Crimean’ and ‘Syrian issue’, Erdoğan exploited the decrease of attention on Turkey’s democratization process and fell off the tray:  we refer, firstly, to the abandonment of the constitutional reform process and, more recently, the social media ban. As an article on Al Jazeera explains[2], the truth is that the government targeted the social media principally because the opposition used them in order to trick the government’s domination of the traditional media that is the television and the newspapers. Furthermore, the break out of the corruption cases revived the critical stances against Erdoğan, coming in particular from Gülenist – oriented magazines such as Today’s Zaman, mirroring the break-up between Erdoğan and Fetullah Gülen.

What these events are suggesting about Turkey’s democratic status? Firstly, we must remind that Turkey is not a democratic country although the Turkish government’s self-portrayal and its membership to the Council Europe – which has been increasing the international blame on Erdoğan’s latest restrictive measures[3]. Turkey is not even an electoral democracy, as freedom house defined it, because there is no the minimum requirements in order to define it as ‘democratic’. Instead, it is possible to define Turkey, as Morlino did, as a ‘hybrid regime’, that is a type of political organization ‘which does not meet the minimum requirements to be a liberal democracy and that indeed maintains some ‘traces of the previous political reality’[4]’. Regarding the minimal conditions of a democracy, there are four: ‘1) universal suffrage, both male and female; 2) free, competitive, recurrent and fair elections; 3) more than one party; 4) different and alternative media sources’ (Morlino 2012:51). However, for a true democracy to be established, these conditions need to be complemented with the presence of political and civil rights. There can be no genuine democracy without the respect of freedom of speech, expression and thought, ‘the existence of genuine and practiced rights of assembly and association’[5]. In this sense, it is clear that the Turkey’s label as the ‘biggest prison for journalists in the world’ is an evidence of the impossibility of considering the State as a real liberal democracy. The crackdown of the protests in Taksim and in other squares of Turkey’s major cities also proved this as much as the intimidations and indirect means for repressing freedom of expression. For these reasons, we can agree with Morlino’s definition of Turkey as a ‘limited democracy’: although there is ‘universal suffrage, a formally correct electoral procedure, elective posts occupied on the basis of elections and a multi-party system, civil rights are constrained by the police or other effective forms of suppression’ (Morlino 2012:62). However, we do not share the vision of turkey’s hybrid status as still: instead, we do believe that Erdoğan’s recent behavior is moving the country along the path towards authoritarianism. This is not only demonstrated by the pragmatically restrictive measures against freedom of expression, but also by the isolation, both domestic and international, that is increasingly characterizing Erdoğan’s government. The Prime minister’s ‘loneliness’ and vulnerability, at the same time, is further demonstrated by the ‘securitization approach’ that he is adopting with regards to internal and foreign issues, as they are being described as ‘existential threats’ to the Turkish state[6].

What is going to happen? Well, it highly depends on the outcome of the local elections of March, 30th. In fact, next ballots are going to provide the scenario for the Presidential elections of late 2014. Moreover, to the next results are likely to influence the inner stability and redistribution of power within the AKP party which has been lately endangered by the increasing alignment between Erdoğan and president Gul, who also criticized the twitter decision.

Which are the immediate consequences for the country? The present situation endangers the country’s economic performance, which has been one of the warhorses of Erdogan’s party.  The tensions between the government and the people, the past clashes, the limitation to freedom of expression and the corrupted allegations, the division within the AKP party itself, hints the presence of a high degree of instability. Such a condition is aligning investors, weakening the Turkish lira and exposing it to speculative attacks. Moreover, the present situation affects also Turkish business companies like TUSIAD and TUKSON,, in particular, who have been benefiting from the past incredible economic boom. TUKSON, together with other Anatolian based companies, was one of the main supporters of the government and of its economic opening to the East[7]. Furthermore DEIK, TUSIAD, MUSIAD, TUKSON, TOBB, just to mention some of the most important Turkish companies, have risen during the AKP era as essential actors in regards to Turkey’s relations with foreign governments and organizations. Now, even they are expressing concerned opinions about the government’s latest behavior, thus questioning their support to Erdogan on next elections.

High levels of democracy are imperative for a successful market economy, and the presence of auditing institutions immune from government intervention is of utmost importance for the sustainability of a healthy market economy, according to Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD) Chairman Muharrem Yılmaz.  “We see a network of economic relations that don’t befit a Turkey of the 21st century. The most integral part of a democracy is the supremacy of law and an institutionalized rule of law based on it,” he said.[8]

In conclusion, for a government which founded its popularity on its capacity to boost the country’s economic performance, the present incipient downturn, although not alarming, combined with  a democratic deficiency, is not going to promise anything but a deadly deadlock. Many are the recommendations which International organizations and think tanks have already addressed to the Turkish government. We are sorry to notice that it may be probably too late, though, since local elections are already behind the corner.  Not even the block of the whole internet will grant Erdoğan the victory. And, by the way, previous evidences (see Egypt’s ban of cell phones), demonstrate that it just does not work[9].

Francesca Azzarà

Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)

[1] Sunday’s Zaman, ‘Erdoğan’s government blocks access to Twitter ahead of local vote’, 20 March 2014. Available at:

[2] A Kadir Yildirim, ‘Turkey: The road to a democratic future’, Al Jazeera. Available at:

[3] Sunday’s Zaman, ‘Reactions abound as Twitter blocked in Turkey’, 21 March 2014. Available at:

[4]Leonardo Morlino, Changes for Democracy: actors, structures, processes, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 51.

[5]Ibidem, pag. 52.

[6] Aras, Bulent and Polat, Rabia Karakaya, ‘From Conflict to Cooperation: Desecuritization of Turkey’s Relations with Syria and Iran’, Security Dialogue, 2008, p.498. Available at:

[7] Today’s Zaman, ‘TUSKON: Twitter ban a disappointment in information age’, 23 March 2014. Available at:

[8] Today’s Zaman, ‘TÜSİAD: Independent auditing very important for market economy’, 23 March 2014. Available at:

[9]Zeynep Tufekci, ‘Everyone Is Getting Turkey’s Twitter Block Wrong’, 28 March 2014. Available at:

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