Wednesday brought more disturbing parallels between Turkey and its less democratic neighbors, as several dozen Turkish Twitter users were arrested for allegedly spreading misinformation and making “libelous” comments on the microblogging site, as well as “inciting rebellion,” which may or may not refer to simply using Twitter to organize protests against the government.
Up to 25 Twitter users have apparently been detained by police, according to press reports, and 13 more are being sought, although the exact nature of their infractions remain unclear, beyond a general allegation of distorting police actions on social media. Of course, this allegation is open to charges of ambiguity: for example, is it spreading misinformation and inciting violence if you tweet a picture of police beating up protesters with the caption, “We can’t let the police push us around”?
It would be nice to know the answers to these questions, but so far the Turkish police have not release any details about what tweets specifically drew their ire. One much-cited rumor on Twitter suggests that police targeted users who tweeted a specific photo showing officers manhandling two young women, which, if true, would obviously be an abuse of power and a violation of free speech. Some of the Twitter users were accused of “misguiding youth,” giving the whole thing an unmistakable totalitarian flavor.
As noted previously, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently called Twitter a “menace” and a “curse,” criticizing it as means for spreading lies. Erdogan has also lashed out against traditional media, including broadcast TV and newspapers, for “provocative coverage,” and threatened media outlets with investigation and legal action.