Turkish citizens fight back against Twitter ban

The Turkish prime minister may have ordered the tap turned off, but citizens are still sneaking their tweets into the Twittersphere.

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Engin Onder/Twitter/screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

The people of Turkey are still finding their way into the Twittersphere despite a government ban of the site.

On Thursday, Turkish courts took Twitter offline for the country's 76 million citizens following actions by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. An unabashed critic of social networks, Erdogan has threatened to "wipe out" the site in the wake of a political corruption scandal that has embarrassed the government through news, videos, and images posted on Twitter.

But many Turkish citizens are tweeting their way past the ban with help from Twitter and Google.

Following the shutdown, Twitter quickly informed Turkish users that they could still tweet using SMS. Google also is providing a helping hand through the use of its free DNS (Domain Name System). Setting a PC or mobile device to use Google's DNS IP address of 8.8.8.8 is another to way to slip past the ban.

Graffiti displaying the phrase: "DNS 8.8.8.8" has even been spotted around Turkey, helping spread the word to fellow citizens. An image being posted on Twitter flashes the message: "Keep Calm" followed by 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 (8.8.4.4 is the alternate address for Google's DNS).

As such, the best laid plans of Erdogan to censor Twitter seem to be backfiring -- for now.

Soon after the ban, the hashtags #TwitterisblockedinTurkey and #TurkeyBlockedTwitter quickly became two of the top trending tags around the world. Since the ban started, the people of Turkey had posted more than 2.4 million tweets by 3 a.m. local time on Friday, CNBC reported, citing stats from Turkish Web site Zete.com.

The volume of tweets has actually risen by 138 percent, according to data from social media analytics firm Brandwatch. In a new study commissioned by social media agency We Are Social, Brandwatch found the increase after comparing the number of tweets sent in Turkey from 2 a.m. to 12 p.m. local time on Thursday with those sent during the same period on Wednesday.

Commenting on the data, Robin Grant, global managing director of We Are Social, said that the ban seems to be rallying more people in Turkey to take to Twitter:

"The main effect so far of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's Twitter ban seems to have actually been inspiring more people to tweet. Banning Twitter is clearly a counterproductive move that will ultimately will have the opposite effect to that intended. The Internet was designed to route around obstacles like PM Erdogan, and its users will continue to find ways to do so.

It appears people in Turkey are enjoying the challenge, tweeting via text message, through an anonymous VPN, by changing their DNS -- and it seems even those who may have had little interest in tweeting before are now getting involved. As numerous politicians all over the world have discovered to their detriment in the past, it's not clever to pick a fight with social media. It's not one they're likely to win."

Even Turkey's own president has questioned the ban. In his own series of tweets posted since Twitter was cut off, Abdullah Gul said that social media platforms cannot be completely closed and that a shutdown of social media platforms cannot be approved.

But Gul's role as president is largely ceremonial, while Prime Minister Erdogan is the true head of Turkey's Islamic-based AK Party-led government. Gul's critics also say he has been reluctant to publicly criticize or challenge Erdogan due to his own political ambitions, according to Reuters.

Turkey's leader since 2003, Erdogan has been embroiled in a political scandal ahead of local elections set for March 30.

Audio recordings have surfaced on social media allegedly detailing conversations between Erdogan and his son in which the two discuss how to hide large amounts of money. Erdogan has condemned the recordings as fake. But the prime minister's critics see the crackdown on social media as a move to stifle news about the scandal.

The censorship of Twitter has already hurt Turkey in the wallet. In the wake of the shutdown, Turkish assets fell on Friday as the lira weakened further against the dollar, Reuters said. The lira was already under pressure, and the ban hasn't helped.

"It remains to be seen whether (the ruling) AK Party will benefit or suffer from the Twitter ban in the upcoming elections," Inan Demir, chief economist at Finansbank, told Reuters. "However, from a purely markets perspective, the whimsical/erratic attitude of the government can only add to Turkey's risk premium."

Turkey's censorship of Twitter has sparked outrage outside the country as well.

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes called the ban "groundless, pointless, and cowardly" and said that the Turkish people and the international community will see this as the censorship that is it. Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, issued a more formal statement condemning the ban:

"The ban on the social platform Twitter.com in Turkey raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey's stated commitment to European values and standards. Freedom of expression, a fundamental right in any democratic society, includes the right to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority. Citizens must be free to communicate and choose freely the means to do it. This obviously includes access to the internet. Open debate promotes transparency and accountability and ultimately reinforces democracy; such debate needs to be strengthened everywhere, including in Turkey."

And now the lawyers are getting involved in the battle. The Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) has filed a petition asking the county to overturn the Twitter ban, according to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News. Twitter has also hired an attorney versed in Internet law to meet with Turkish officials to discuss a legal solution for ending the ban.

Despite Erdogan's vow to wipe out social networks, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said he expects the ban to be temporary, Reuters reported. Facing legal pressure, financial worries, and the obvious ineffectiveness of the ban, Erdogan's government may have no choice but to turn the tap back on.

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About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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