Turkey`s Twitter ban appears to backfire

Last Updated: Saturday, March 22, 2014 - 09:42

Washington: The global Internet community rallied to help Twitter users in Turkey circumvent a block on the popular messaging service on Friday, as some experts said Ankara`s efforts were backfiring.

After Turkey`s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to "wipe out" Twitter and the site went dark there Thursday, there was no lack of help from activists, Internet companies and others.
"Trying to ban Twitter has backfired," said Philip Howard, who heads the Digital Activism Research Project at the University of Washington.

"It`s drawn the world`s attention to the country`s increasingly tough censorship and surveillance strategy."

Howard told AFP the Turkish move quickly became a "trending topic" on Twitter -- which prompted fresh criticism of the government.

"News of the ban seems to have driven more Turks to try Twitter out for the first time, breaking national records for Twitter use. Tip sheets for getting around the ban spread like wildfire," he said.

Shortly after Twitter connections were broken, the US-based social media giant posted a message reminding users they could get onto the platform through SMS text messaging.

Activists pointed to ways to tweak a computer`s Internet settings to access Twitter.

And some firms offered access to their VPN -- a virtual private network which masks the user`s information to circumvent the ban.

Around the world, #Turkey and #TurkeyBlockedTwitter were big topics on the social platform.Zeynep Tufekci, a University of North Carolina sociologist who is Turkish, followed the news in real time and posted a blog on how her compatriots responded.

"People circumvented, one by one, and then in a flood," she wrote.

"By the end of it all, most trending topics worldwide, and of course in Turkey, were about the blocking of Twitter, and of course, opposing it.

"Let alone be deterred, the number of tweets in Turkish and from Turkey were close to record-breaking levels."

Tufekci said Twitter has become so ingrained in daily life in Turkey that it may be impossible to hold back.

"Twitter is not just a protest tool in Turkey... it`s an entrenched part of the networked public sphere," she said.

"The only people not on Twitter at the moment are ardent pro-government supporters who do not want to circumvent, and people who may not have the fairly minimal skill required to circumvent."

Some surveys suggest about one in seven Internet users in Turkey uses Twitter.

The ban on Twitter is the latest in a series of moves by Erdogan`s government to tighten its control of the Internet, including banning thousands of websites.

The Turkish premier has come under mounting pressure since audio recordings spread across social media that appeared to put him at the heart of a major corruption scandal.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, a frequent user of social media, led the chorus of calls against the ban. And activists around the world quickly denounced the Ankara government.

"The decision to block Twitter, a leading medium of communication in Turkey, is quite a dramatic step for a government that claims to be democratic," said David Kramer, president of the pro-democracy group Freedom House.

"It is a bold attempt to stop news of government corruption from getting out in the run-up to local elections. The government should immediately reopen Twitter and recognize that free, unhindered space for debate is essential in Turkey, as it is anywhere else."Some activists and analysts said the ban was unlikely to succeed.

"While the ban seems futile, what it indicates is an increasingly authoritarian Turkey," said Jillian York at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Emily Parker, a New America Foundation fellow who has a new book on digital activism in authoritarian governments, noted that many people are able to use Twitter despite bans in countries such as China.

"Turkey may have an even harder time keeping people off of Twitter," Parker told AFP.

"Twitter is already extremely popular in Turkey, and has millions of users. It is difficult for authorities to take away Internet freedoms that people once enjoyed."

AFP

First Published: Saturday, March 22, 2014 - 09:42

comments powered by Disqus