News / Europe

    Twitter Ban Sparks 'Arms Race' with Tech-Savvy Turks

    Demonstrators, members of the Turkish Youth Union, shout anti-government slogans during a protest against a Twitter ban, in Ankara, March 21, 2014.
    Demonstrators, members of the Turkish Youth Union, shout anti-government slogans during a protest against a Twitter ban, in Ankara, March 21, 2014.
    Reuters
    Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan rails against Twitter as part of a plot to blacken him and portray his Turkey as corrupt; but Turks in growing numbers are exploring ever more innovative ways to beat his ban in what has become a cyber-battle of wits.
     
    Last week, few Turks were conversant with technical terms such as VPN or DNS, but that has all changed now, in the pursuit of the forbidden. In a nod to old-style political protest, “workarounds” are even daubed on walls in Turkey's major cities.
     
    Cartoons of Erdogan pointing a shotgun at a blue bird, the logo of the social networking site, are circulating widely. Even allies have made rare forays into insubordination: Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek tweeted a smiley face and acknowledged using a technological ruse after Erdogan ordered Twitter to be blocked.
     
    The microblogging site has been a vehicle for a stream of anonymously posted audio tapes purporting to expose corrupt dealings by family members and businessmen. Erdogan, facing important local elections next Sunday, accuses U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally turned chief political opponent, of hacking secret state communications, then manipulating recordings to smear him.
     
    Erdogan's declaration last week that he would root out Twitter, and the subsequent attempt to block it in Turkey, triggered denunciations from European officials and the U.S. government, which spoke of “21st century book burning”.
     
    The move seemed to backfire fast. Internet analysts reported a surge in tweets as “workarounds” were shared on social media.
     
    “It sort of seemed it wasn't very well thought out. There would have been better ways of blocking Twitter,” Runa Sandvik, a technologist at the U.S. based Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), told Reuters.
     
    But over the weekend, authorities in Ankara began closing loopholes, triggering what Sandvik calls a “censorship arms race”, with users constantly shifting to different technology.

    Always a way around
     
    “The question is, what will the government do next? I don't think they will be able to block 100 percent, there will always be a way around the censorship, (it's) whether they can make it difficult enough that users just give up,” Sandvik said.
     
    Initially, many people delved into their computers' settings to change the DNS or Domain Name System - effectively sending their traffic via different servers not initially subject to the ban. When the government caught on and blocked Twitter's website directly, people turned to other technology to dodge the ban.
     
    VPN software - which circumvents web-address-based bans - skyrocketed to the of top free download lists in Turkey's online Apple and Android software stores.
     
    Downloads of the VPN software Hotspot soared to more than a million in 72 hours from 10,000 a day before the ban, according to The roaring trade by David Gorodyansky, CEO of the company behind the program.
     
    The use of TOR software has also surged. TOR makes web surfers invisible and was widely used in the Middle East during the Arab Spring, as governments cracked down on protests.
     
    Nevertheless, the number of Turkish language tweets has dropped sharply from Thursday's peak, according to data provided by Semiocast Analytics and quoted in MIT Technology Review.
     
    It's not the first time Turks have faced cyber censorship - Youtube was switched off for more than two years until 2010. But the shutdown of Twitter in a country with millions of users has sparked a wave of mockery, much of it in tweets aimed at the government.
     
    “I feel so juvenile using Twitter as I sit at a coffee shop in Izmir ... Once again, banning something makes it much more exciting,” Turkish writer Ziya Meral tweeted.
     
    “Today I'm spoiling myself. Instead of Switzerland, I'm connecting to Twitter from Hong Kong,” read another Turkish user's tweet.
     
    Friends and foes tweet

     
    On Monday, even the AK Party Youth wing was tweeting Erdogan's weekly schedule, and the state news agency was also active.
     
    Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc's office cautioned against reading any hint of resistance into its tweeting of what was a routine morning schedule.
     
    But Ankara mayor Gokcek, who tweeted the smiley face on Thursday, stopped tweeting on Sunday.
     
    All the while, huge crowds from Erdogan's largely conservative base have continued to flock to hear him speak ahead of Sunday's local polls, an important test of whether his popularity has held despite the corruption scandals.
     
    Many of his supporters, often more prosperous since he came to power 11 years ago, back his argument that the Twitter ban is a national security measure to ward off Gulen's sedition.
     
    Gulen denies Erdogan's accusation he has used a network of supporters in the police and judiciary to concoct a corruption investigation against his government and family.
     
    “I can't say I'm happy about Twitter,” said 52-year-old export manager Ismail Can Sahin as he attended an Erdogan rally. “(But) national security is very important.”
     
    U.S.-based Turkish academic Zeynep Tufekci believes Erdogan's assault on Twitter has been misunderstood as a bid to block it completely and stop the flow of damaging allegations - something even his ally President Abdullah Gul admits is not technically realistic - when, in fact, he wants to discredit it among his core supporters and discourage them from using it.
     
    “Erdogan's strategy is to demonize social media,” Zeynep said in a blog on Monday.
     
    Erdogan himself has left little doubt about that.
     
    “I don't understand how people of good sense could defend this Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. There are all kinds of lies there,” he declared to loud cheers at a weekend rally.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora