Twitter block for 12 hours as Turkey grapples with earthquake

Twitter block for 12 hours as Turkey grapples with earthquake

ISTANBUL Reuters -- Turkey has blocked access to Twitter for 12 hours since Wednesday afternoon and Thursday as people scrambled to find loved ones after devastating earthquakes has compounded public frustration at the pace of relief efforts.

Opposition leaders and social media users criticised the throttling of the platform, which has helped people share information on arriving aid and the location of those still trapped in rubble after the initial tremor on Monday.

President Tayyip Erdogan has blocked social media in the past and focused on fighting what it calls disinformation which it said prompted the block on Wednesday.

The government of President Tayyip Erdogan has lost its mind and has lost its mind. The result is a cry for help being heard less. CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said after the block was imposed on Wednesday afternoon that they know everything you're trying to hide.

A government official who requested anonymity said the move had temporarily interrupted real calls for help but that action was taken quickly and the service returned to normal.

The official told Reuters that this had to be done because there were untrue claims, slander, insults and posts with fraudulent purposes, as well as attempts to steal money under the pretense of collecting aid.

Turkey held talks with Twitter on Wednesday and said they expected cooperation in fighting disinformation during relief work, Deputy Transport Minister Omer Fatih Sayan said.

There is a grave threat to democracy, social peace, and national security, according to Erdogan's communications director, Fahrettin Altun, who pledged to support Turkey's efforts, and officials look forward to working with it over the next few days and weeks.

In October of last year, Turkey's parliament adopted a law under which journalists and social media users could be jailed for up to three years for spreading disinformation, raising concerns among rights groups and European countries about free speech.

Erdogan's ruling party said a law was needed to tackle false accusations on social media, and it would not silence opposition. The issue is of growing significance with elections scheduled to be held by the middle of the year.

A Reuters investigation last summer showed how mainstream media has become a tight chain of command of government-approved headlines, while smaller independent and opposition media are facing the brunt of regulatory penalties.

The Twitter block caused an angry response from the opposition DEVA party leader Ali Babacan, a former economy minister and Erdogan ally.

How can Twitter be blocked on a day when communication is saving lives? There was a kind of ignorance by Babacan late on Wednesday.

The pro-Kurdish HDP party said that Twitter had played a crucial role in organizing aid for those affected by the quakes and that blocking social media would cause more deaths.