Q & A: Turkey’s Twitter Ban | Freedom House

Q & A: Turkey’s Twitter Ban

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by Adrian Shahbaz, Research Manager, Freedom on the Net

How did the Turkish authorities block Twitter?

Authorities in most countries have the ability to restrict access to websites that are deemed illegal under local laws. In the case of Turkey, the recently passed internet bill allowed for the blocking of websites in cases when personal rights or privacy is violated. The law also empowers Turkey’s telecommunications regulator, the TIB, to take executive action without a court order, thereby removing checks and balances.

What legal basis did the Turkish authorities use?

The TIB cited the company’s failure to cooperate in removing content that allegedly infringed privacy rights. Turkish ISPs were then ordered by the TIB to block Twitter by manipulating the domain name system (DNS), which is how the internet knows what page to show us when we type the URL “www.twitter.com” into our browser. Instead, users were redirected to a TIB page that listed three court decisions and one order from a public prosecutor against the website.

So you can actually block Twitter?

Yes and no. As we have now seen, Twitter use in Turkey has actually increased since the blocking order was implemented. Even Turkish President Abdullah Gul tweeted his disapproval of the shutdown.

How is that possible?

While, from a technical standpoint, it is relatively easy for ISPs to block access to a given website, it is far more difficult to prevent local citizens from employing tools to circumvent censorship. Even in the most repressive environments for internet freedom, tech-savvy users are still able to disguise their location or surf anonymously with the help of digital security tools.

In Turkey, users have been able to access Twitter by accessing alternative DNS resolution services, signing up to virtual private networks (VPNs) situated outside of the country, or using anonymizing services such as Tor. In a show of defiance, Turkish citizens have spray-painted “,” the address of Google’s free DNS service, on buildings and posters of the ruling AKP party. Representatives from Twitter have even offered a text-to-tweet function by providing a local Turkish phone number that instructs users how to avoid the block.

Why did the Turkish authorities do this?

Twitter has become one of the main instruments for disseminating independent news, investigative stories, and corruption revelations in Turkey. Uploaded to sites like YouTube and Soundcloud, recordings of high-level government officials or their relatives have spread to the masses through Twitter. The role of social networks was also on full display during the Gezi Park protests in the summer of 2013, when traditional media outlets either refused to cover the events, or at best, presented a highly distorted picture. In response, Prime Minister Erdogan referred to social media, particularly Twitter, as “the worst menace to society.” When combined, these events produced the impetus for the government to pass the newly revised internet law that allowed authorities to block Twitter. Earlier this month, Erdogan also threatened to block Facebook and YouTube. The latter was intermittently blocked until 2010 as a result of a high number of videos that were seen as insulting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the “founding father” of Turkey.

Q&A compiled by Adrian Shahbaz, Research Analyst at Freedom House.

Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.

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