Multiple internet providers in Turkey restricted access to Twitter, cybersecurity watchdog Netblocks reported on Wednesday — sparking widespread condemnation that the outage could disrupt a vital communication line for mobilizing relief efforts in the disaster-struck country.
Twitter owner Elon Musk on Wednesday evening said Turkish authorities had informed him they would be restoring access. Netblocks subsequently confirmed that there was no longer a blockade.
The initial outage came after citizens took to social media to criticize the government’s response to the two earthquakes that struck on Monday, which have so far killed more than 8,500 people in the country.
In a speech on Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would not allow disinformation, telling the country not to listen to “provocateurs” on social media.
Turkey’s police said they had identified 202 social media accounts that made “provocative posts” about the the earthquake. At least 18 people were detained and five were arrested, police said, adding that websites engaging in such actions were “shut down.”
Prosecutors were also investigating two veteran journalists in Turkey critical of the government’s ineffective response to the earthquake, saying the reporters were allegedly “openly inciting people to hatred and enmity,” Balkan Insight reported.
Reporters and media organizations covering the disaster, who appeared to either bypass the blockade or were not affected by it, tweeted about the situation, with some directly tagging Musk for help. Many also pointed out that the restriction could lead to delays in search and rescue operations.
“Shame! Twitter was the main source of comms for people who search for survivors and victims as well as aid campaigns,” wrote Balkan Insights reporter Hamdi Fırat Büyük.
“Hi @elonmusk, Twitter is down in Turkey!” the official account of Turkish news site Onedio tweeted. “For this reason, there are difficulties in the earthquake zone as well. We are waiting for your help.”
“Turkish authorities decided to throttle and limit access to the Twitter platform from Turkey while rescue efforts continue after the major earthquake,” Turkish cyber rights activist Yaman Akdeniz tweeted. “Needless to say, keeping all communications channels open is vital during this crucial moment.”
“By restricting Twitter at this time, you are preventing or delaying help from reaching people who can reach it. You are killing people on purpose,” Ali Gul, a lawyer and activist, wrote on Twitter.
“Bear in mind, as Turkey restricts access to Twitter, that people trapped under the rubble have been using Twitter for days to share their location and call out for help,” The Economist’s Turkey correspondent Piotr Zalewski also said.
Turkey has previously restricted social media during major crises, and critics say the recent ban may be a result of mounting criticism over the Turkish government’s response to the disaster.
Turkish authorities have reportedly detained more than a dozen people for criticizing Erdogan’s handling of the earthquakes on social media.
Erdogan visited the epicenter of the tragedy for the first time on Wednesday and urged residents to exercise “patience” — blaming the damaged airport and roads for the slow and limited relief measures.