Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales blasted Twitter owner Elon Musk for censoring social media posts that could harm the re-election of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In a controversial move, Twitter revealed this weekend it acted to “restrict access to some content in Turkey today” just as the country’s 64 million voters were set to cast their ballots on Sunday in what was dubbed a historic chance to unseat Erdoğan, in power for 20 straight years.
Musk defended the decision, arguing it was better to remove any offending tweets the government required than throttle his business in Turkey entirely and he was at least being transparent about it.
Did your brain fall out of your head, Yglesias? The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 13, 2023
Wales countered that Twitter should have followed Wikipedia’s example.
“We stood strong for our principles and fought to the Supreme Court of Turkey and won,” he posted on Saturday. “This is what it means to treat freedom of expression as a principle rather than a slogan.”
In response to pushback from one of Musk’s paid Twitter Blue subscribers, Wales later added: “We do not bend to the will of governments, anywhere.”
“If Elon is now saying ‘we don’t care about freedom of expression if it interferes with making money’, then he should just say that,” Wales wrote.
Mehdi Hasan, host of MSNBC’S Mehdi Hasan Show, called Musk a hypocrite for doing Erdoğan’s bidding just 24 hours after writing he was “adamant about defending free speech, even if it means losing money.”
This is the second time he has been accused of helping authoritarian governments after allegations were raised about censoring Twitter for India’s Narendra Modi.
“You can’t crown yourself the grand poobah of free speech while also cravenly caving to the demands of foreign autocracies where you also, conveniently and completely coincidentally, happen to have other business interests,” Hasan argued on Sunday.
The intervention of Musk, who repeatedly paints himself a “free speech absolutist”, on Erdoğan’s behalf comes amid a crucial juncture in Turkey’s history.
In the past few years, the country has since suffered a currency collapse of its lira, official inflation rates of 50% or more likely understate severely the true figure and his government’s botched response to an earthquake helped contribute to over 50,000 dead.
With the stakes so high, six opposition parties agreed to set aside their numerous political differences and back Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and his secular CHP party that count major cities like Istanbul as well as coastal areas as their stronghold.
Should Erdoğa triumph in the likely second round of voting in two weeks, it’s possible that he has Musk’s willingness to censor opposition voices in part to thank for it.
Even worse, this could embolden other autocrats to threaten Musk with suspending access to Twitter, unless he does their bidding as well.