The Twitter social media platform flagged a Sunday tweet about “LGBT deviants” from Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu as “hateful,” but did not delete the tweet or suspend Soylu’s account.
Soylu was criticizing a protest by students and teachers at Bogazici University in Istanbul against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of politically-connected businessman Melih Bulu as campus rector.
Daily demonstrations have been held ever since Erdogan named Bulu to the powerful post on January 1, instead of allowing the university to elect its own rector. The appointment was seen as Erodgan tightening his control over the prestigious institution and imposing his Islamist values upon what is officially a secular university. Erdogan claimed the power to appoint university rectors after the unsuccessful 2016 coup against him and has invoked his authority on several occasions since then.
Bulu once ran for office on the ticket of Erdogan’s dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP) and holds a doctorate in finance, but has been criticized as unqualified for the position of rector at a major university. Turkish academics accused him of plagiarism in numerous articles he has written; Bulu insisted he just forgot to put quotation marks around a few of his quotations.
Bogazici students worried that he would impose Islamist standards on the university curriculum and shut down many of its activities; Bulu responded by trying to convince the kids that he is hip and cool because he enjoys the music of American heavy metal band Metallica. When that did not work, Bulu accused the protests of being organized by subversive agitators “using” the students as political props.
The increasingly energetic protests against Bulu’s appointment began including art and music, some of it provided by gay students. Opposition leaders threw their support behind the protesters, while Erdogan took to congratulating the youth wing of his AKP part for being better than the “LGBT youth.”
Homosexuality is not technically illegal in modern Turkey, but Erdogan has frowned upon it as he sought to position himself as one of the Middle East’s strongest champions of Islamic values. His frown deepened considerably when a group of Bogazici students decided to create protest art that depicted gay pride rainbows flying above the Kaaba, the distinctive square building at the center of the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Four students were arrested Saturday for their part in creating this artwork and police raided the LGBT student clubs at the university, seizing “books on an outlawed Kurdish group and rainbow flags” according to the Associated Press.
Student groups denounced the assault on freedom of expression and staged an even more vigorous protest. The police responded by arresting 159 of the demonstrators. Bogazici faculty on Tuesday protested against that by marching around the rector’s building carrying signs with the number 159 and demanding Bulu’s resignation.
“Should we tolerate the LGBT deviants who insult the great Kaaba? Of course not,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted Sunday, prompting a rare content warning from Twitter about “hateful conduct.”
The social media platform did not, however, remove Soylu’s tweet or block his account, stating that it “may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.” Twitter took the same approach with a tweet Tuesday in which Soylu said, “Should we tolerate the LGBT deviants who attempted to occupy the rector’s building? Of course not.”
Twitter has deleted tweets and banned entire accounts for violating its terms of service, most controversially banning the account of U.S. President Donald Trump on January 8. Erdogan has announced his intention to regulate content on social media to protect Turkey’s “cyber homeland.” Twitter is one of the few platforms that has not complied with all of his demands, prompting concerns that Erdogan might throttle its traffic or ban Twitter entirely if he grows angry with the company.