"Turkey suspects internal, external sabotage attempts on rescue efforts via social media"
Turkish Presidency’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said Turkey suspect that internal and external forces were attempting to sabotage the search and rescue efforts via social media, following the Feb.6 earthquakes.
Commenting on the country’s temporarily restricting access to Twitter in the aftermath of the tremors, “We discovered that many fake alerts were posted on social media. We are looking into whether this was done on purpose or whether there were internal and external forces attempting to sabotage the search and rescue efforts. Hence, an administrative decision was reached,” Altun said in an interview with the Greek Kathimerini newspaper on Tuesday.
“Twitter also recognised our concerns and took proactive steps to address them. The restrictions were lifted a few hours later,” he said.
On Feb.8, two days after the devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey’s southeast, leaving more than 44,000 people dead, Twitter has been restricted by several ISPs in the country.
Real-time metrics from NetBlocks, an organization that monitors cybersecurity and Internet governance, showed that Twitter was restricted by SNI filtering at major Internet providers TTNet and Turkcell, preventing users from reaching the social media site.
Following Turkish authorities’ holding a meeting with the company “remind Twitter of its obligations" regarding the removal of content and disinformation, access to the social media platform has been restored.
The restriction came just a day after Turkey has activated a whistleblower mechanism via phone lines to hunt those deemed to spread “disinformation on social media, calling on people to report those who produce and spread “suspicious/false news” about the earthquake.
“In recent years, the fight against disinformation has become a top priority not only in Turkey but also all over the world. In this regard, it is also being discussed how global companies like Twitter must build relationships with the states,” Altun told Kathimerini.
Also responding questions over Greece’s response to Turkey’s earthquakes, Altun thanked the neighboring country for its support.
“Following the first significant earthquake, Turkey immediately sought international assistance and as a result, search and rescue teams from dozens of countries arrived. Greece was one of them. Of course, we are grateful to Greece and all the countries that have supported us,” he said.
In response to a question whether this will open a new page in Turkish-Greek relations, Altun said Turkey seeks to maintain good relations with all of its neighbors.
“It is common for states to disagree with one another occasionally. We must resolve these disagreements via meaningful and sincere dialogue centered on equity and in accordance with international law. The Turkish nation has never abandoned the extended hand of friendship,” he said.
Dismissing any thought of postponing the presidential and parliamentary elections set for May 14, “This is not on our agenda,” Altun said.
“Our top priority right now is to heal wounds as soon as possible. Our primary concern is to extend the compassionate hand of the state to the injured, those who have lost loved ones, and all our citizens who have been affected by the earthquake,” he said.