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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora