Elections in Turkey: the founder of Wikipedia tackles Elon Musk on freedom of expression

The elections in Turkey were an opportunity for the founder of Wikipedia to mock Elon Musk’s positions on freedom of expression, which would only be displays.

Important elections took place on Sunday May 14, 2023 in Turkey, with the legislative as well as the presidential elections. The stakes are high for the country : the question is whether Recep Tayyip Erdogan will manage to stay in power after twenty years at the head of the country, and whether his political party, the AKP (the Justice and Development Party), will remain in the majority.

A decision taken the day before this double ballot, however, raised the question of freedom of expression in Turkey, and prompted the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, to give a lesson to Elon Musk, the boss of Twitter. The social network announced on May 13 that censorship has been applied in Turkey to restrict access to certain content.

« In response to legal proceedings and to ensure that Twitter remains available to Turks, we have taken steps to restrict access to certain content in Turkey today. We have notified account holders of this action in accordance with our policy. This content will remain available in the rest of the world », said an official Twitter account.

The nature of the content in question is not specified in Twitter’s announcement, but this decision inevitably generated unflattering comments with regard to Elon Musk. How come Twitter hides content when its boss presents himself as an absolutist freedom of expression activist? Is it just a slogan?

On May 12, the person concerned said he was still intractable on the subject, in response to a user who reacted to the appointment of Linda Yaccarino at the head of the site. “ I’m adamant about defending free speech, even if it means losing money “, he indicated. Musk reserved the positions of technical director and chairman of the board instead.

Opposition-related content hidden on Turkish Twitter?

However, it was another comment that made Jimmy Wales react. On May 13, the eve of the vote in Turkey, a Bloomberg columnist, Matthew Yglesias, said that the social network submitted to a request from the Turkish government to limit the visibility of opposition content. Erdogan could lose against his challenger, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu.

« Turkey’s government asked Twitter to censor its opponents just before the election and Elon Musk complied. Matthew Yglesias added, as a tackle against the American billionaire, that it “ should lead to some interesting stories on the Twitter Files ».

THE Twitter Files are the name given to disclosures supposed to show censorship against the American right, organized internally by the social network. In fact, the Twitter Files are not as spectacular as Elon Musk promised. His accusations of censoring conservative voices were inaccurate or excessive, media outlets like France Info, Release or The world. The content of these documents was already generally known on the malfunctions in terms of moderation on the platform.

Still, it’s this message that reacted Elon Musk : « Have you lost your mind, Yglesias? The choice is to throttle Twitter in its entirety or limit access to certain tweets. Which one do you want ? “, he launched, mobilizing the fallacy of the false dilemma for the occasion, as if there were only two outcomes and that his decision was necessarily the least bad.

Jimmy Wales
Jimmy Wales. // Source : Joi This

It’s there that the founder of Wikipedia entered the dance, by showing that there was another possibility: that of fighting in court. A possibility that works: it is this strategy that the Wikimedia Foundation followed at the turn of the 2020s, to obtain the restoration of access to the online encyclopedia in Turkey, after years of blockage.

« What Wikipedia did: We stood up for our principles and fought all the way to the Supreme Court of Turkey and we won. This is what it means to treat free speech as a principle rather than a slogan “said Jimmy Wales, tackling Elon Musk sharply on his favorite ground.

Are the two situations such however absolutely analogous? The message left by Jimmy Wales shows that this parallel with Wikipedia is in any case disputed. Still, if the path chosen by Wikipedia is possible, it is a path that can be very long. It took almost three years for Wikipedia to be reinstated in Turkey.

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