Social media ban tarnishes Turkey's image, may hit tourism [Cihan News Agency (Turkey)]
(Cihan News Agency (Turkey) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ANKARA (CIHAN)- As Turkey continues to discuss the side-effects of a recently introduced ban on Twitter and YouTube and the possibility of the government extending the social media ban to Facebook, this has raised concerns that such a move will tarnish Turkey's appeal to foreign investors and visitors, observers argue.
The Turkish economy depends on foreign capital inflows to compensate for its low savings rate and huge energy deficit and this requires the country to remain attractive for investments from abroad. The ban on Twitter -- which has already placed Turkey in the league of such countries as North Korea, China and Iran in terms of social media restrictions -- will definitely not help Turkey to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) at a desired level, market experts have said.
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, in what many see as an attempt to divert attention from major graft allegations targeting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his family and his government, blocked access to Twitter last week. In an effort to further the ban, the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) blocked access to public Domain Name System (DNS) servers provided by Google, which many users were employing to circumvent the Twitter ban. The ban followed Erdogan's speech at a public rally in Bursa in which he stated that the government was determined to "root out Twitter." Several users on Twitter posted YouTube links to leaked phone recordings and photographs to allegedly serve as proof of graft allegations leveled against the prime minister's family and the government in an investigation that went public on Dec. 17.
Shortly after the ban on Twitter, TIB on Thursday blocked access to popular video sharing platform YouTube, a move that followed a leaked voice recording allegedly featuring the voices of Turkey's foreign minister, intelligence chief and a top army general discussing the developments in neighboring war-torn Syria that was uploaded onto the site. Representatives of the business world already expressed their concerns over the Twitter ban, suggesting the ban dented a healthy implementation of rule of law and democracy in Turkey.
Ufuk Sanli, an economy correspondent at the Vatan daily, told Today's Zaman that the Twitter ban definitely raises concerns among foreign investors, especially technology and social media companies, who would consider investing in Turkey. "The social media ban may lead to a decrease in Turkey's credit rating as well," Sanli added.
The Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSIAD) said in a press statement the ban on Twitter, which is disproportionate and against freedom of speech and expression, apparently reveals ungrounded fears and does not serve democracy.
Similarly, Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) Chairman Riza Nur Meral stressed that, with the recent decision of the government, Turkey has moved further toward becoming an authoritarian regime. Meral said that as a representative group of businesspeople, TUSKON condemns the Twitter ban and urges that it should be removed as soon as possible. "It is impossible for Turkey to reach its economic targets by behaving in this manner," Meral added. Indeed, if restrictions on access to social media tools continue, tourism and digital marketing sectors will immediately feel the negative impacts of the bans.
Tourism industry needs to be 'online'
In a press meeting on Thursday in Istanbul, Touristic Hotels and Investors Association (TUROB) President Timur Bayindir said technology is an indispensable part of tourism and tourists and people who visit cities expect those places to be "online."
"It is regrettable for us that access to one of the most important social media tools, Twitter, has been restricted in our country. Preventing people's right to access information is a desperate situation. While countries look at ways to use social media more efficiently, the ban on social media negatively affects both citizens and the tourism sector. I hope the ban will be lifted as soon as possible," said Bayindir.
The TUROB head underlined that some countries, including Italy, had already issued warnings to citizens to be aware of the current social media restrictions in Turkey before planning their vacations to Turkey. "This [Twitter ban] has already ignited a campaign in social media harming Turkey's appeal as an attractive center for tourism," he stressed.
According to recent Turkish Statistics Institutes (TurkStat) data, Turkey's tourism income exceeded $32 billion in 2013. Yet, the continuation of the social media ban may decrease this figure in 2014.
Similarly, after the Twitter ban, the president of the Professional Hotel Managers' Association (POYD), Ali Kizildag, said: "When observed from abroad, a country where anti-democratic acts take place is not an attractive place for tourists. Tourists do not want to visit such a country." Kizildag added that European tourists are more sensitive about such ban issues. Apart from the tourism sector, digital marketing which can be defined as the promotion of products or brands via one or more forms of electronic media, including social media tools, will be one of the sectors hit by the Twitter ban in Turkey.
In a press release on March 21, the Informatics Industrialists' Association (TÜBISAD) stressed that "the Twitter ban is a disproportionate act that violates freedom of expression."
"It would only be possible for Turkey to attain its target to become one of the top 10 economies in the world by 2023 by letting information informatics technologies, which we believe are the driving force of economic growth, and the Internet sector flourish in a healthy and free way," the statement said. (Cihan/Today's Zaman)
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