Twitter: No current deal to open office in Turkey

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- Twitter denied on Wednesday claims by Turkish government officials that the social media company decided to establish a local office in Turkey in an attempt to end a feud with the government over a tax-related issue and demands to block several accounts.

Twitter’s vice president and global public policy head, Colin Crowell, told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that the company has made no pledge to meet the demands of the Turkish government to open a local office. Along with a group of executives from the San Francisco-based company, Crowell has been in Turkey since the beginning of this week to hold discussions with the Turkish authorities and settle their conflict. Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah IIler said early on Wednesday that the Twitter officials had expressed its consent to the government’s demand that the company open a local office in Turkey and start paying taxes for revenues it reaps from Turkish companies. Government authorities had also asked Twitter to shut down accounts of those expressing opinions that violate the personal rights of others, he said.

Access to Twitter was blocked in Turkey from March 20 into early April after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan, speaking at a public rally, accused the social media company of not abiding by Turkish court orders. The ban was not revoked until the country’s Constitutional Court ruled it was unconstitutional on April 3. ErdoIan, exasperated by the court decision, said he would comply with it but that he doesn’t “respect it.”

ErdoIan has lashed out at social media platforms in what has been perceived as deliberate actions to put a muzzle on political dissent against his increasingly authoritarian rule. He called the platforms a “menace to society” and promised crowds at his rallies that he would “show Turkey’s might and root out Twitter.”

YouTube has not been accessible in Turkey since March 27, after a voice recording of top-level Turkish officials discussing a possible cross-border operation into Syria was leaked on the video sharing site. Twitter and YouTube were the two major sites through which anonymous accounts leaked critical and confidential information and wiretapped voice recordings about graft claims that have implicated the government.

rowell told the WSJ that the company provides the utmost attention to preventing interventions from governments and removal requests are posted to Chilling Effects — an online service that attempts to prevent unwarranted legal threats. “Our view is that whatever discrete issues they [the Turkish government] may have had in content issues, the remedy was disproportionate,” he said.

rowell also ruled out claims that the company and the Turkish government had discussed tax issues during their meetings in Ankara. “We didn’t have a direct conversation on the tax issue,” Crowell said. He added that Twitter manages ad sales through a reseller in Turkey and doesn’t directly do business in the country.

Turkey’s Finance Minister Mehmet IimIek announced on Tuesday that Turkey may sidestep international treaties so that it can collect corporate and revenue taxes from such companies that provide social media services online.

He also suggested, as a deterrent, an increase from 18 to 36 percent in the value-added tax (VAT) for Turkish companies who aertise via these social media platforms.

Erkan Saka, an assistant professor at Istanbul Bilgi University and new media researcher, announced via Twitter that he and a group of people had a meeting with a team from Twitter. At this meeting, he said, the Twitter representatives denied claims that the company is considering opening an office in Turkey. The company’s team said plans for establishing a liaison in Turkey are thoroughly based on “rational economic analyses” and they have not made a decision on whether or not to take the step in Turkey, “a country where we are blocked,” Saka quoted them as saying.

He also said the Twitter team informed the group that the company made no promise to Turkish authorities to divulge the personal information of certain users or to block their accounts. Twitter’s representatives said this would only be possible through proper legal proceedings at the relevant US courts. “Only then, maybe,” the team told Saka.(CihanToday’s Zaman)