New Twitter Files Pushes Back Against Musk Critics Over Turkey Censorship Compliance

May 17th, 2023 4:18 PM

The newest Twitter Files defended Twitter CEO Elon Musk after Twitter complied with Turkish government censorship requests.

Musk went along with Turkey’s censorship demands leading up to the recent election there. Independent journalist Michael Shellenberger highlighted three key points from the new Twitter Files, providing context on the apparent anti-free speech collusion. First, he wrote, “Twitter sought compliance with Turkey’s censorship demands long before @ElonMusk bought the company.” Shellenberger also wrote that Twitter is more transparent than Google or Meta, and that even some of Musk’s harshest critics have defended him in this instance.

Platformer writer and Musk “hater” Casey Newton and senior reporter at The Verge Zoe Schiffer actually defended Twitter 2.0 owner (Musk) for complying with Turkey’s court order, arguing that non-compliance could result in an outright ban, Shellenberger reported in The Twitter Files. “It’s typically better for the cause of speech to have at least some content available,” Newton and Schiffer wrote in an article for The Verge.

“It’s good to see that Musk is attempting to push back against foreign government censorship operations and providing a platform for people to speak all across the world,” said MRC Free Speech America & MRC Business Director Michael Morris. “But more can still be done. American companies like Twitter should be exporting the American ideals of free speech and expression, not importing the globalist notion of top-down, totalitarian suppression, control and censorship.”  

Twitter released the Turkish court order and government regulator letter, Shellenberger noted. He quoted the Twitter Global Government Affairs account’s announcement, which said Twitter will try to challenge the Turkish government. “We were in negotiation with the Turkish Government throughout last week, who made clear to us Twitter was the only social media service not complying in full with existing court orders … We will continue to object in court, as we have done with all requests.” Twitter Global Government Affairs tweeted that the platform expressed “concerns about freedom of expression” to the Turkish government.

Facebook (now Meta) and Google, meanwhile, have complied with Turkish censorship demands. And TikTok likely has as well, Shellenberger explained, but these companies did so without releasing the documents as Musk’s Twitter did.

Shellenberger tweeted that FBI stooge and then-deputy legal counsel at Twitter, James Baker, emailed in 2021 to recommend compliance with Turkey, “we need to: (1) agree to comply (as much as possible) with the 48-hour requirement (which I understand people think is achievable); and (2) agree to cobble together some Turkey specific transparency report twice a year.”

Twitter’s law firm noted the same month as Baker’s email that Twitter had attempted unsuccessful legal objections to Turkey’s censorship demands. International arbitration proceedings were recommended. Later, a Twitter executive noted that Turkish President Recep Erdogan was trying to criminalize some speech.

Shellenberger did confess his personal empathy to critics, however, noting his desire for strong rejections of government censorship. “Critics say that Musk should have called the government’s bluff and let the government shut off Twitter entirely. I am sympathetic to this view since I think it would be a strong show of force at a time when governments worldwide are cracking down on freedom of speech.” He added, though, a claim that Twitter is relatively transparent: “Twitter under Musk has been more transparent than any other Internet company” with regard to government requests for censorship.

The Twitter Files, however, did not address whether Musk permits censorship of content at the request of other governments. For instance, it is unclear if Musk ever removed the tool that allowed the U.S. government direct intervention in the Twitter code.

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