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Turkey's President Erdogan in Social Media Storm as He Visits US

A Turkish minister accused a "global operation" of removing an adoring hashtag from Twitter's top trends after Ankara attempted to get a German comedy song lampooning Erdogan removed from the internet.
Photo by Legnan Koula/EPA

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is at the center of a social media storm, after a government minister accused a "global operation" of removing an adoring hashtag from Twitter's top trends, and millions watched a German comedy song lampooning Erdogan which the government attempted to get removed from the internet.

Tens of thousands of tweets using the tag "#WeLoveErdogan" were made by the president's supporters (including Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu) on Wednesday as he embarked on a visit to the US for a nuclear summit amid increasing criticism over his government's woeful record on press freedom and civil liberties. Many included message of support or pictures of Erdogan kissing children, the elderly and infirm.


— Elif?Tu?ra? (@Gazaicindua)March 30, 2016

But the hashtag subsequently disappeared from Twitter's top trends, leading a number of senior Turkish officials to allege it had been deliberately censored. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told reporters he suspected an international conspiracy.

"Who instructed you to remove the #WeLoveErdogan hashtag? Was it a country, a person, a terrorist organization, or someone else?" he said Wednesday, adding: "I believe that this is part of a global operation conducted against our president".

Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek, a staunch Erdogan loyalist, was also incensed and in a series of more than 40 posts accused exiled Islamic preacher and political figure Fethullah Gulen — a former ally of the president who he now claims is attempting to overthrow the government —of being behind the hashtag's removal.

Twitter did not offer immediate comment on the issue, but commentators suggested that the hashtag may in fact have been removed due to automated spamming or as a part of its standard calibration of top trends.

Undaunted, Erdogan's supporters began to Tweet the hashtag #WeHaveErdoganTheyDont, which became a top trend in Turkey on Wednesday night. Similar content was posted, including photograph montages and slogans. Some were addressed to Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey.

Hey — 7 8 Hasanpa?a (@askinince)March 30, 2016

Others were less conventional, including one that gave Twitter users a vote on why other countries didn't have President Erdogan. Options included "cause they are traitor".


— Re4list Yobaz (@gercekci_insann)March 30, 2016

The hashtag was also hijacked by opponents, some of whom opined that those without Erdogan were actually the lucky ones.

In fact it is true — Emre Uslu (@EmreUslu)March 30, 2016

US President Barack Obama is not expected to have a formal meeting with Erdogan during the latter's visit, a decision the White House says is due to scheduling reasons, but that some observers have interpreted as a snub due to Turkey's increasingly poor record on freedom of expression. In recent months a crackdown on opponents of Erdogan and his ruling AKP party has seen newspapers seized and resurrected as government mouthpieces, journalists arrested, and as many as 1,845 cases opened against people accused of insulting the president.

The most recent controversy saw Ankara summon the German ambassador to demand a video of a zany comedy song called "Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan" broadcast on a German channel earlier this month be removed from the internet. The song that seemingly so offended Erdogan depicts him as an egotistical, thin-skinned authoritarian bent on suppressing anything that offends him. But attempts to suppress this musical number backfired spectacularly. Its authors added English and Turkish subtitles and the YouTube video, which had been little viewed before, quickly jumped to more than 4.4 million views.

Erdogan and his entourage attempted to silence dissenting voices in the US too. As his motorcade arrived in Washington yesterday, the president was greeted by a small number of protesters accusing Turkey of human rights violations in the conflict-stricken, predominantly Kurdish southeast. His security detail advanced on the demonstrators, pushing them, and then when they began to shout "terrorist Erdogan!" attempted to drown them out with noises reminiscent of bleating goats. They opposing groups then traded curses while a bald and moustachioed bodyguard called the protesters "terrorists" and another grabbed a placard from them and threw it into a nearby bin.


Erdogan's security detail has previously violently ejected protesters in Ecuador while he was giving a speech and allegedly broke a lawmaker's nose.

But social media users were quick to mock the security detail, with many using the hashtag #ÖÖÖEEEEEEEAAAAAA??????HHHHH and inserting their shouts into mashups of pop songs and crying animals.

Goat Compilation 2016 — RIDIVIN (@Ridvaanc)March 30, 2016