Over the weekend, Twitter restricted access to some tweets in Turkey at the request of the Turkish government ahead of its next presidential election. The tweets were critical of the authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Erdoğan needs all the help he could get, as his economy is in tatters, propped by Russian money and a gigantic earthquake showed the corruption in his system. In fact, it looked like he might lose the election.
Musk obligingly abandoned his free speech principles to comply with the Turkish government order that users who criticised Erdoğan would not be allowed to post over the weekend.
Musk defended his decision, arguing that "the choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets."
However, Musk has a relationship with Erdoğan. The pair met in 2017 and SpaceX signed a deal with Turkey in 2021. At the World Cup, Musk and Erdoğan shook hands. Last month SpaceX assisted Turkey in a satellite launch. Critics believe that Musk's dealings with Erdoğan may have prompted Twitter's easy compliance with the most recent takedown request, seemingly intended to silence Erdoğan's detractors ahead of his re-election bid.
As some Twitter users pointed out, Musk’s stance meant that authoritarian governments could see this response as a signal that Twitter would help them silence opponents any time they threaten to ban the platform regionally.
Musk claimed that, for transparency reasons, he would post the takedown notice that Twitter received from Turkey, but apparently, that did not happen.
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, tweeted that Musk could have defended free speech in Turkey, as Wikipedia did after Turkey banned Wikipedia from 2017 to 2020. Rather than bend to a Turkish government request to remove an article on state-sponsored terrorism, Wikipedia fought Turkey in the country's highest court until the ban was lifted, Insider reported.
"If Elon is now saying, 'We don't care about freedom of expression if it interferes with making money,' then he should just say that," Wales tweeted.
Earlier this year, Rest of World reported that Twitter was complying with more government takedown requests under Musk than ever—finding that Musk had not refused a single request and had fully complied 80 per cent of the time.
Some of these requests asked Twitter to remove controversial posts, while others asked for private user data to attempt to identify anonymous users. Twitter had a stronger backbone, rejecting eight requests before Musk showed up.
All this is strange as Musk always claimed that his take over of Twitter was about supporting lawful free speech on Twitter, particularly those poor right-wing conservatives who never appear to have a voice. However, since he took over Musk has censored employees who tweeted critically of him and banned comedians who mocked him, suspended journalists and left-wing figures he opposes, and censored specific words to limit their reach, like "trans" or "queer."
The Turkish elections ended up going to a run-off so Erdoğan is not out of the woods yet.