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Twitter has flagged a series of homophobic tweets by a Turkish government official attacking LGBTQ activists as “deviants,” while the country’s ruling AK Party continues to crack down on various forms of dissent by jailing critics, journalists, and student protesters.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu issued tweets earlier this week bashing “LGBT deviants,” prompting Twitter to place a warning on his tweet, noting that it violates the platform’s rules against inciting hate against particular groups. According to the Jerusalem Post, access to Soylu’s tweet was banned in France.
Soylu’s tweet appears to be motivated by demonstrations led by university students protesting Ankara’s installment of Melih Bulu, a former political candidate with ties to the populist right-wing Islamist AK Party, as the rector of Bogazici University. In response, four protesters hung artwork near the rector’s office that depicted the Kaaba in Mecca, one of Islam’s holiest sites, alongside images of the LGBTQ rainbow flag.
The four protesters were arrested on Saturday, but 159 other protesters were detained on Monday, continuing a pattern of the ruling AK Party stifling any form of dissent. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AK Party has embraced authoritarianism, often arresting or jailing people critical of the regime.
Twitter’s flagging of Soylu’s tweet is part of a larger attempt by the social media platform to crack down on hate speech, following widespread criticism across the globe for allowing extremist groups to tweet vitriol targeting certain groups. Twitter has removed hundreds of thousands of pro-ISIS Twitter accounts, including some in Turkey, as well as a network of AK Party-linked accounts attacking journalists and other dissidents.
Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish lawmaker and director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Turkey Program, tweeted that the anti-gay tweets could “further hate crimes,” and told the Jerusalem Post that Twitter has not always been as proactive in countering hate speech, pointing to similar hateful tweets Soylu had made just last week that were not flagged.
President Erdogan, no friend to the LGBTQ community, has frequently engaged in homophobic rhetoric, accusing LGBTQ activists of undermining Turkey’s “national and spiritual values” and “poisoning” young people. He has sought to link those critical of the government to LGBTQ activists — a propaganda technique that seeks to exploit socially conservative views that are popular among Turkish citizens.
The Erdogan government has even gone so far as to accuse protesters of engaging in “terrorism” in retaliation — a tactic previously seen in Chechnya, where authorities have been accused of labeling gay men who were arrested and persecuted because of their homosexuality as “terrorists” in order to limit their movements and keep tabs on those they view as a threat to their power.
On Monday, Erdogan praised the youth wing of the AK Party in a broadcast to party members, telling them: “We will carry our young people to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth that existed in our nation’s glorious past.
“You are not the LGBT youth, not the youth who commit acts of vandalism,” he said, according to the BBC. “On the contrary, you are the ones who repair broken hearts.”
Turkish officials have also demonstrated a willingness to engage in conspiracy-minded thinking and the promotion of disinformation.
Despite Turkey being a member of NATO, the Turkish government has bear-hugged Russia, Iran, China, and other totalitarian regimes and expressed hostility towards the United States, particularly the Biden administration.
Government officials have previously — and falsely — accused the United States of involvement in an attempted coup in 2016, an accusation that the U.S. State Department dismissed as “wholly false” in a statement on Thursday.
Turkey has also criticized the United States’ relationship with Israel, comparing the Middle Eastern country to Nazi Germany and seeking to disrupt Israeli attempts to pursue diplomatic relations with Muslim-majority countries.
In one recent tweet, the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency tweeted a list of high-profile people of Jewish ancestry in the new Biden administration as part of a post propagating an anti-Semitic trope that the U.S. government is controlled by Jews, and thus, will be slavishly loyal to Israel.
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