Twitter Heads to Turkey for Talks Amid Erdogan Ban Threat

Apr 14, 2014 7:40 am ET

(Updates with Twitter’s response in second paragraph.)

April 14 (Bloomberg) -- Twitter Inc. is seeking to ease tensions in Turkey amid accusations from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration that the U.S. company evades taxes and refuses to abide by Turkish law.

Twitter Vice President of Global Public Policy Colin Crowell is meeting Tayfun Acarer, head of Turkey’s Information and Communications Technologies Authority, in Ankara today, a spokesman for Acarer said by phone. Nu Wexler, a spokesman for Twitter, declined to comment.

Erdogan accuses San Francisco-based Twitter of tax evasion, while Burhan Kuzu, the lawmaker leading efforts to rewrite Turkey’s constitution, filed a case with the Constitutional Court on April 10 to have a ban on the microblogging service reinstated. Kuzu cited Twitter postings that insulted him. The site is ignoring hundreds of rulings by Turkish courts to take down content that amounts to slander, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, said today.

“Twitter should have an office in Turkey,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara. “People should have the right to challenge it and defend themselves against allegations.”

Ban Lifted

Turkey banned access to the website before March 30 municipal elections after Erdogan vowed to “dig up” Twitter and other social media websites where leaks purporting to reveal corruption in his government were being posted. Erdogan has dismissed the leaks as fake or irrelevant, and accused Twitter of a double standard in not blocking content upon Turkish court orders. The Constitutional Court lifted the ban on April 3, a decision that Erdogan said he didn’t respect and his administration has said it will seek to undo.

“These companies will comply with the constitution, laws and tax code of my country like any other international firm,” Erdogan said on April 12, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. “Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are companies established to earn profits that evade taxes. This has nothing to do with freedoms.”

The EU and U.S. have criticized the Twitter ban as well as a ban on access to Google Inc.’s YouTube that was imposed on March 27. The lead candidate of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party for European Parliament elections, David McAllister, cited on April 12 what he called an “assault on freedom of expression” by Erdogan, saying it showed Turkey wasn’t politically fit to join the EU.

--With assistance from Amy Thomson in London.