Turkey Bans YouTube Days Before Local Elections


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey blocked its 74 million citizens from accessing YouTube on Thursday, less than 24 hours after lifting a similar ban on Twitter put in place last week.

With just days left until the March 30 national election, the country has now banned two social media sites back-to-back as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to accuse the sites of propagating what he claims are fabricated recordings that implicate his role in various corrupt activities.

The YouTube ban went into effect hours after an anonymous account leaked audio recordings that suggest Erdogan was behind a sex-tape scandal involving his political rival, Deniz Baykal, the former leader of Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party. The YouTube recordings — allegedly from when the scandal broke in 2010 — reportedly depict Erdogan asking how the tape could be best distributed. The recordings also appear to show Turkey’s intelligence chief and Syria’s foreign minister plotting military operations. International news outlets haven’t yet been able to independently verify the tapes as authentic.

A Turkish court suspended Turkey’s Twitter ban yesterday after the government received widespread criticism from Turkish and international leaders. Erdogan has previously said Twitter is a “menace to society” and demanded the micro-blogging site “obey Turkish law,” which they claim forbids certain kinds of political criticism, swearing and postings of pornographic images.

But the YouTube leak seeming to prompt Thursday’s ban might be more damaging to Erdogan’s credibility in the run up to March 30 elections than the recordings leading to last week’s Twitter blockade. This weekend’s elections are crucial for Erdogan and his political party and will likely determine the political tone for future elections. “Everyone knows that in this election it is not the parties that are being voted on, but Erdogan and his rivals,” a Turkish official told Reuters.

Similar to how the Twitter ban backfired, Turkish citizens are already sidestepping the YouTube block. Users have begun posting on Twitter possible workarounds to the ban, such as using a virtual private network (VPN) and changing computers’ domain name settings. During the last YouTube ban in 2008, the prime minister boasted that he could access YouTube, along with those who illegally circumvented the ban.

Thursday’s YouTube block is the latest in a string of attempts to tighten media censorship and restrict Turks’ avenues for free speech. Earlier this year, the country passed a harsh law that allows the county to block access to websites without a court order. Erdogan has been especially critical of social media in recent years, declaring that YouTube and Facebook were used for “all kinds of immorality, all kinds of espionage,” and threatening to eradicate the sites altogether.