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Turkish Officials Threaten Social Media Companies With an 'Ottoman Slap'

Government crackdowns on street protests spread to the web

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Police fired tear gas during anti-government protests in Taksim Square in Turkey (Photo: Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto / Rex Featu)Turkish officials are demanding that social media companies—including Facebook and Twitter— cooperate with government requests to hand over private information of users who express dissent online.

If they don't, they will be dealt an 'Ottoman slap,' warned Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs, and Communications Binali Yildirim.

While it is not clear what Yildirim meant by this term, the government hints it will boot out social media companies that do not fully cooperate.

Turkish officials demanded Wednesday that Twitter cooperate with authorities by setting up a bureau in Turkey to deal with government requests for private information about users.

Yildirim said Facebook was being cooperative, though Facebook quickly released a statement denying this claim.  

The threats are part of the government's strategy of aggressively going after online organizing and reporting by labeling it criminal activity. The government is also cracking down on journalists it considers too critical of the ruling AKP party.

The Turkish government is targeting people who allegedly levied insults against government officials and 'incited riots' on social media, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag acknowledged Thursday.

Those accused could face jail time. A Turkish newspaper reports that police are teaming up with prosecutors to levy charges against at least 35 people accused of criticizing Erdogan on Facebook and Twitter.

The revelations come amidst international condemnation of widespread police violence against ongoing protests and continuing raids and house arrests that have left thousands injured and at least four dead since protests erupted May 31.

Social media has been used as a tool to organize and document protests and expose police violence throughout the weeks of demonstrations in Turkey.

Key images have gone viral through social media—including the 'woman in red,' 'standing man,' and lone woman attacked with gas—galvanizing people across Turkey and capturing world attention.

The protests started when a peaceful occupation of Istanbul's Gezi Park to protest its planned redevelopment was violently attacked by police. The mobilizations have since grown into nation-wide uprisings against the U.S.-backed Turkish government that protesters say is spiraling into authoritarianism.

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