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

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

Research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities, and Christians are facing persecution in a growing number of countries in the region More

Chinese Americans: Don’t Call Us 'Model Minority'

Label points to collective achievement, but some say it triggers resentment, unrealistic expectations More

Iran Bolsters Phone, Internet Surveillance

Does increased monitoring suggest the government is nervous? More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghetto

When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid