Erdogan vowed to tighten the Turkish government's control of social media following the tweets directed at his family members. He said his government plans legislation that would force social media companies to establish a legal presence in Turkey, meaning they could be held financially accountable and answerable to Turkish courts.
“Do you see why we oppose social media like YouTube, Twitter, Netflix, et cetera.?” Erdogan told members of his party in a televised address, referring to the allegedly insulting tweets. “It is imperative that these channels are brought under control.”
“Turkey is not a banana republic," Erdogan said. "We will snub those who snub this country’s executive and judicial bodies.” Police said at least 11 people were detained for social media postings dealing with Erdogan’s daughter, his son-in-law, who is the government minister in charge of Turkey's economy, and the couple's newborn son.
Many Turks, including opposition politicians, rallied in support of the president's family and condemned the insults, some of which reportedly questioned the baby's paternity. However, Erdogan's comments sparked protests on social media. with the hashtag “Don'tTouchMySocialMedia” in Turkish becoming a top trending topic on Twitter.
Meral Aksener, the leader of the opposition Good Party, mocked Erdogan on Twitter, saying she would be upset with the Turkish leader if he were to shut down Netflix before the final season of the show “Dark.” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, tweeted a jokey response: “Be careful Ms. Meral, he'll now give you a spoiler out of anger.”
Although Erdogan’s comments came days after the reported insults on social media, his government has long been considering amendments that would enable it to keep social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube under check by forcing them to remove content or risk facing heavy fines and restricted access to their platforms.
Critics fear the move is aimed at further limiting the Turkish public’s ability to access independent news outlets in an environment dominated by pro-government media. A top Republican People’s Party legislator, Ozgur Ozel, accused Erdogan of acting in anger after the president's videoconference with a group of students last week received more than 300,000 “dislikes” on YouTube, where the event was streamed live.
“Instead of acting in anger and (bringing) measures that will turn the country into China, North Korea and Russia, ethical measures should be introduced with the participation of all parties,” Ozel said.
Thousands of websites already remain blocked in Turkey. In January, the government lifted a more than two-year ban on Wikipedia after Turkey’s top court declared it unconstitutional. Turkey halted access to the online encyclopedia after it refused to remove content the government deemed offensive.
The Turkish government has also banned YouTube and Twitter in the past. Last month, Turkey criticized Twitter after the company announced it had taken down more than 7,000 fake accounts it said were created to increase support for Erdogan's ruling party.