(.hurriyetdailynews) Senior government officials have slammed Twitter, claiming it “censored” a hashtag created for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by removing #WeLoveErdogan from its top trending tweets.
“I’m just curious: Is using the message ‘We love Erdoğan’ against Twitter’s principles? Why would a message expressing people’s love bother Twitter?” he added.
“I am of the opinion that this is one part of a global operation conducted against our president,” Bozdağ also said.
Supporters of President Erdoğan have created a viral Twitter hashtag #WeLoveErdogan to rally around the Turkish leader as he makes a highly sensitive visit to the United States at a time when he faces growing criticism over freedom of expression.
“Our president Mr @RT_Erdogan was greeted with great enthusiasm by US citizens and our compatriots,” tweeted Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who is accompanying Erdoğan on his visit to Washington, adding the hashtag “#WeLoveErdogan.”
Other users posted pictures of Erdoğan kissing children or famous moments from his career and life, including scoring a goal with a canny chip in a televised 2014 exhibition football match.
Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy Mehmet Babaoğlu posted a picture of Erdoğan’s 2009 walk-out from the World Economic Forum in Davos after a row with then Israeli President Shimon Peres.
“That’s why #WeLoveErdogan,” he said.
But the campaign hit immediate controversy with Erdogan supporters accusing Twitter of censorship by deliberately removing the hashtag from its top trending tweets.
Ankara mayor accuses Gülen group
In an extraordinary broadside of over 40 tweets posted on his Turkish and English accounts, Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek said Twitter had deliberately taken it down.
“This hashtag #WeLoveErdogan got TT ranking worldwide … But then it was censored unbelievably,” said Gökçek, accusing supporters of Erdoğan’s friend-turned-foe, the U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, of being behind its removal.
However, other users expressed skepticism, suggesting that rather than censoring the hashtag Twitter may have removed it for being generated by fake accounts and automated bots, or simply as a normal outcome of its complex algorithm for determining top trends.
There was no immediate comment from the social network.
The Twitter campaign comes as Erdoğan visits the United States amid signs that U.S. President Barack Obama is trying to keep his distance from the Turkish leader.
Foreign criticism is also multiplying over the issue of freedom of expression and freedom of the media. In the latest row, Turkey summoned the German ambassador in Ankara to demand that Germany take down a satirical TV song lampooning Erdoğan.
Until last year, Erdoğan was seen as hostile to Twitter, boasting that he does not “tweet or schmeet” and overseeing blockages of social networks.
But in 2015 he sent his first tweet from his own account @RT_Erdogan and now regularly uses Twitter.