Turkish internet users inspired by rising nationalism have been calling for a more domestically driven social media experience, and potentially the introduction of a home-grown social network to replace existing services including Twitter and Facebook, which have again been blocked by the government since yesterday’s devastating terror attack in Gaziantep, southeast Turkey.

Using the hashtag #YerliSosyalMedyaİstiyoruz – We Want Domestic Social Media – which has been trending for several hours on Twitter, tens of thousands of tweets have already circumvented the administrative block, going into detail to describe various grievances with existing social networks.

Both Facebook and Twitter have recently drawn ire as foreign-run businesses whose operations could conflict with Turkey’s developing self-identity following the attempted coup of 15 July. Recent political developments have renewed concerns that the services could be blocked permanently or semi-permanently in Turkey, as the government restructures its regulatory powers on digital surveillance and access restriction.

Economic and cultural benefits cited

The voiced concerns include:

  • Twitter and Facebook are controlled by the United States, which can “no longer be considered an ally”
  • Foreign networks could be manipulated by underground groups or operatives to “control Turkish policy” or “guide international opinion”
  • The views of international users could insult the Turkish state or Islam, provoking internet users in Turkey and so “should not be accessible domestically”
  • Foreign internet firms pay little or no tax despite generating significant revenue in the country
  • Services like Twitter and Facebook are “monopolistic” and “deprive local startups” of opportunities to enter the market

Frequent shutdowns

Turkey’s most recent social media shutdown – the ninth recorded incident in the last 12 months – has frustrated citizens who increasingly rely on online services for business activities as well as commentary of breaking news events. A report by Deloitte earlier this year revealed that Turkey has one of the highest social media usage rates amongst internet users worldwide, with a particular propensity to share photographs and live video feeds.

Not without precedent

WeiboChina is amongst the few countries which have successfully barred access to international social networks in lieu of a homegrown alternative.

Sina Weibo, a hugely popular local microblogging website, combines aspects of Facebook and Twitter to deliver a compelling service, albeit one sanctioned by and closely surveilled by the state.

Critics of China’s isolationist social media policy have warned that the arrangement yields too much power to a government viewed in the west as authoritarian – while proponents argue that such powers shouldn’t be held by private companies, particularly those that may hold foreign interests.