Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales clapped back at Twitter CEO Elon Musk on Saturday for censoring critics of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, the day before the country’s highly contested presidential election.
In a tweet, Wales noted that Musk was not defending free speech when he caved to Turkey’s demands to restrict content. When faced with a similar dilemma, Wales noted, Wikipedia pushed back.
“What Wikipedia did: we stood strong for our principles and fought to the Supreme Court of Turkey and won,” Wales wrote in response to Musk’s tweet. “This is what it means to treat freedom of expression as a principle rather than a slogan.”
Wales was among multiple critics on Twitter who scored Musk for choosing to give in to a Turkish court’s demand that the social media platform restrict critics of Erdogan on the eve of the election. Musk defended himself, tweeting to Bloomberg columnist Matthew Yglesias who had criticized him:
“Did your brain fall out of your head, Yglesias? The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?”
Musk posed the dilemma: limiting access to certain posts (the content of which Twitter has yet to define) or shut it down in Turkey all together. Many critics said that Musk should have, indeed, shut all of Twitter in Turkey in defense of free speech.
Wales then stepped into the ring, offering up his own website’s story as an example of the best path forward.
What Wikipedia did: we stood strong for our principles and fought to the Supreme Court of Turkey and won. This is what it means to treat freedom of expression as a principle rather than a slogan. https://t.co/tHkx1Wa06r
— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) May 13, 2023
Wikipedia was banned for more than two years in Turkey due to article entries that accused the country of being linked to terrorist organizations. The Wikipedia Foundation challenged the ban in Turkey’s Constitutional Court, and after a drawn-out process, the ban was lifted in 2019, with the court ruling a block on the online encyclopedia was a violation of freedom of expression, per Reuters.
Wales is now arguing that Musk does not share the same values that Wikipedia does.
Twitter’s Global Government Affairs account initially stated it blocked access of some content in Turkey “in accordance with the court decisions regarding the blocking of access to Twitter,” according to a Google’s translation of the tweet in Turkish.
Twitter’a iletilen erişim engellenmesine yönelik mahkeme kararları uyarınca ve Twitter'ın Türkiye’de kullanıma açık kalmasını sağlamak amacıyla, Türkiye'de bazı içeriklerin erişimine engelleme getirdik.
— Twitter Global Government Affairs (@GlobalAffairs) May 13, 2023
Turkish President Erdoğan, who has been in power in the country for 20 years, has completely blocked Twitter before. He is currently facing challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu in a tight election race that will be decided Sunday unless neither candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, per NPR. Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based human rights organization, recently urged social media platforms like twitter to be as transparent as possible when it comes to election monitoring and content moderation.
“As election night draws near it is imperative that social media platforms and the wider internet remain accessible so the public can follow the work of independent election monitors and reporting around the vote count. Given the sorry state of Turkey’s mainstream media, the integrity of Turkey’s election depends upon it,” Human Rights Watch wrote Friday.
According to the independent Turkish news site Turkish Minute, the accounts that were restricted by Twitter include those of investigative journalist Cevheri Güven and Kurdish businessman Muhammed Yakut, both of whom view Erdoğan as a dictator and have shared disparaging details about what they view as a corrupt administration.
“The timing of these restrictions, coming only a day before a critical election in which President Erdoğan is reportedly trailing, has raised concerns that the move is politically motivated, potentially stifling voices of dissent and impacting the election’s outcome,” the outlet wrote.