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Last week, a funeral in Istanbul became the site for mass demonstrations as protesters converged to assert their resistance against the government’s creeping authoritarianism.
Turkey’s beleaguered prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, promptly accused them of trying to influence the municipal elections later this month, which are widely seen as the first real test of his popularity since the civic unrest last summer, as well as a referendum on his scandal-hit Justice and Development Party government.
Given that Twitter was the major organising tool for these “charlatans”, and other supposed anti-government conspirators have taken to the microblogging site to share audio recordings of Erdogan’s alleged corruption, his reasons for vowing to “eradicate” the platform are all too clear. Unfortunately for Erdogan, though, shuttering Twitter via court order has not only drawn condemnation from his people and other governments, it has also failed to achieve its intended goal.
Not unused to censorship, Turks have taken to virtual private networks and services like Tor, not to mention good old SMS, to tweet their outrage at their prime minister’s clumsy attempts to silence them — and to instruct other Twitter users on how to get around it. The volume of tweets originating from the country is reportedly unaffected, and the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey quickly became the top trending term worldwide. Even the president, Abdullah Gul, criticised the decision to restrict access in a rare act of defiance — via, what else, but Twitter.
Erdogan’s ban is a good demonstration of the Streisand effect, where efforts to quash a piece of information have the unintended consequence of publicising it more widely. It should also serve as a cautionary tale for aspiring autocrats wishing to curtail social media in future. When trying to tame the internet, go at least as big as Iran (which, incidentally, allows Twitter access, albeit with restrictions). Otherwise, like water, the social web will find a way, making a mockery of attempts at showcasing total control.