Turkey’s battle of wills with social media networks picks up a notch

The Turkish Competition Board said on Monday it launched an investigation into WhatsApp and its owner Facebook after the messaging app asked users to agree to let Facebook collect user data including phone numbers and locations.


In a written statement, the Competition Board said it ruled that the requirement to allow the collection of that data should be suspended until the probe is complete.



Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s media office and the country’s defense ministry have announced  they are quitting WhatsApp, joining a shift from the popular messaging app over new usage terms that have sparked privacy concerns.



The presidency will move its WhatsApp groups to encrypted messaging app BiP, a unit of Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri, on January 11, it said in messages to the groups. The defense ministry followed suit on Sunday. The switch coincides with Erdogan’s broader campaign against social-media platforms that activists say is meant to stifle dissent.


Changes to WhatsApp’s terms and services the come into effect on  February 8 will allow it to share data with parent company Facebook. Users must agree to the new terms, which would allow for more targeted advertisements, or lose access to their accounts at WhatsApp.


The push to monetize WhatsApp more heavily has come at a time when Facebook’s revenue growth is near a record low. While messaging has jumped more than 50% in many of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus, according to the company, those increases have not translated into more advertising dollars because the popular services aren’t platforms where Facebook has a robust ad business.




At the bottom of Erdogan’s switch to the new domestic messaging  service and the Antitrust Board probing Facebook and WhatsApp lies a bitter struggle by Erdogan and AKP to control  the flow of information to voters.  Erdogan successfully captured all independent media outlets, turning them into messaging boards for AKP’s policies. He attempted to do the same to social media by having affiliates of AKP hire up to 7K  AK-trolls whose sole job is to promote messages by Erdogan and cronies in social media networks.


This effort largely failed, because social media participants don’t like phonies, and the much less organized but spontaneous dissidents are much better at trolling.


This is why Erdogan  had a new Social Media Law be legislated by the Grand Assembly, which among other things forces major networks to store their Turkey-related data in Turkey and comply withy content removal request, or face criminal penalties. Ironically, YouTube is the first to capitulate. To the best of our knowledge, Facebook is yet to concede to demands by Turkish authorities.


WATCH:  What is Mr Erdogan’s beef with social media?

Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and www.paraanaliz.com and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.