UPDATE: As of March 22, the Turkish government has blocked Google DNS and other DNS servers, which were being used by thousands to circumvent the ban on Twitter. We recommend that Turkish users download the Tor Browser Bundle, which will continue to allow them to bypass censorship (here are instructions for using the Tor Browser Bundle in Turkish).
“Twitter and so on, we will root them out. The international community can say this or that – I don’t care. They will see the power of the Turkish Republic.”
The above is a statement made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during an election rally in Bursa just before banning Twitter late Thursday.
Most reports state that the decision to block the site is in response to a leak of a voice recording of the prime minister that was published on YouTube and popularized on Twitter. The recording, purportedly of Erdoğan speaking to his son by phone, contains references to a plan by the pair to hide cash in several safe houses.
The recording is just one in a series of triggers that have led Erdoğan to censor the platform. Earlier this month, he warned that his government could ban YouTube and Facebook following the upcoming March 30 elections. During last year’s Gezi protests, he called social media “the worst menace to society.”
Twitter is, somewhat surprisingly, infrequently censored by governments. Along with Turkey, China and Iran also block the site wholesale.
Iran unblocked Twitter in September 2013. Egypt famously blocked the platform for a week back in 2011, and a handful of countries have attempted to block individual tweets.
Turkey's block seems to be a simple DNS redirect, implemented by Turkey's local ISPs. The blockpage that residents of Turkey see when they try to access Twitter reports that a “protection measure” has been taken for twitter.com, and refers to four different legal orders. That page can be viewed by searching “twitter.com” on this Turkish government website.
A lesson in futility
More than 45% of Turkey’s 80 million people use the Internet, and around 14% of them use Twitter. The platform has been called “crucial” to the 2013 protests, and has taken on a powerful role in bringing people together, demonstrated recently when the funeral of a young man morphed into a mass demonstration of more than 100,000 after being announced on Twitter.
News of Twitter’s blocking immediately spread across the platform despite the ban; after many years of living with censorship, include that of popular sites like YouTube, many of Turkey’s Internet users are well aware of how to bypass a government blockade. Not long after the ban was implemented, DNS workarounds were being shared across social media. As one user tweeted amidst the furor: “Only in #Turkey: -Twitter is banned -5 hashtags are trending worldwide -with 77% coming from Turkey.” Another tweeted an image of a mobile phone running on the TurkCell network, filled with VPN apps.
Changing DNS settings and using VPNs aren’t the only way to access Twitter. As the company’s @policy account tweeted earlier, existing Turkish Twitter users can send Tweets using SMS. Avea and Vodafone users should text START to 2444. Turkcell users can text START to 2555. Tor can also be used to bypass censorship.
While the ban seems futile, what it indicates is an increasingly authoritarian Turkey. Twitter isn’t the first site to be blocked, nor is it likely to be the last.