When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first announced plans to “eradicate” Twitter, in response to leaks and criticism of the government made through Twitter, it got many people’s attention about whether he would follow through, especially because Twitter has such high penetration in the country – eighth in the world. But a few hours later, the answer became clear. Users in Turkey could no longer access Twitter through normal means.
When users in Turkey tried to access Twitter, they instead saw a statement that was posted by Turkey’s telecommunications regulator (TIB), the Guardian reported.
The statement cited four court orders as the basis for blocking the site, where some users in recent weeks have posted voice recordings and documents purportedly showing evidence of corruption among Erdoğan’s inner circle. It said that action had been taken against Twitter as a “protection measure”.
It didn’t take long for Twitter users to find workarounds to continue accessing Twitter. Graffiti on buildings with instructions on how to access Twitter began showing up in Turkey, to spread the word on how to access Twitter despite the ban. Even Google’s Matt Cutts tweeted with instructions on using Google’s DNS in order to access sites.
Google Public DNS is fast with great uptime. Use 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168 as your DNS servers.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) March 21, 2014
Code that was found in graffiti form in Istanbul:
— Gulay Ozkan (@gulayozkan) March 21, 2014
Twitter also posted instructions for Turkish users on how to tweet via SMS:
Turkish users: you can send Tweets using SMS. Avea and Vodafone text START to 2444. Turkcell text START to 2555.
— Policy (@policy) March 20, 2014
Turkish users with a VPN were also able to circumvent the Turkish Twitter ban.
However, Turkey later tightened up many of the alternative ways that users were utilizing to circumvent the ban, according to the Guardian:
Initially, Turkish internet service providers (ISPs) were simply redirecting traffic to a government webpage by forcing the DNS servers, which send to the correct IP addresses for the site they are trying to access, to redirect away from Twitter’s homepage.
Now, however, ISPs have begun blocking the IP addresses used by Twitter themselves, according to an analysis carried out by internet monitoring firm Renesys. And a Turkish government webpage confirmed the block, citing court orders.
Publicly, the Turkish Prime Minister has said the ban was over content on Twitter that the company refused to remove from Twitter – specifically content that insulted Turkish citizens, although those citizens are primarily Erdoğan and his political allies.
However, many people believe the heart of the Twitter ban issue is over politically motivated leaks that targeted the Prime Minister and his political party that cast them in a very negative light, reported the Washington Post. The timing of the ban was also suspect – just days before local elections.
Erdoğan’s Twitter crackdown appears to be specifically targeting the alleged leaks, in particular one anonymous account named Haramzadeler, (which apparently is translated as “Sons of Thieves” but could also mean “bastard”) and another called Bascalan (“Prime Thief,” a play on the Turkish word for prime minister), according to Bloomberg. Erdoğan has also threatened to ban Facebook and YouTube, two other services which he says are being used to share recordings that damage his government, be they real or fake.
However, Turkish President Abdullah Gül is against the ban, and has also flouted the ban by tweeting himself, decrying the move as unacceptable.
In a series of messages posted on Twitter, he said: “The shutdown of an entire social platform is unacceptable. Besides, as I have said many times before, it is technically impossible to close down communication technologies like Twitter entirely. I hope this measure will not last long.”
He also expressed hope that the ban would be over “soon”.
“I believe this problem will be over soon,” Gul told reporters. “This is of course an unpleasant situation for such a developed country as Turkey, which has weight in the region and which is negotiating with the European Union.”
However, Erdoğan promptly responded with comments about how he can’t understand those who defend social media platforms, stating, “I cannot understand how sensible people still defend Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. They run all kinds of lies.”
His comments also raise concern about whether Erdoğan would next ban Facebook and YouTube in his assault on social media. There are also confirmed reports that Twitter has since hired a Turkish lawyer to facilitate negotiations with Turkey.