Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan rails against Twitter as part of a plot to blacken him and portray his Turkey as corrupt; but Turks in growing numbers are exploring ever more innovative ways to beat his ban in what has become a cyber-battle of wits.
Last week, few Turks were conversant with technical terms such as VPN or DNS, but that has all changed now, in the pursuit of the forbidden. In a nod to old-style political protest, “workarounds” are even daubed on walls in Turkey’s major cities.
Cartoons of Erdogan pointing a shotgun at a blue bird, the logo of the social networking site, are circulating widely. Even allies have made rare forays into insubordination: Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek tweeted a smiley face and acknowledged using a technological ruse after Erdogan ordered Twitter to be blocked.
The microblogging site has been a vehicle for a stream of anonymously posted audio tapes purporting to expose corrupt dealings by family members and businessmen. Erdogan, facing important local elections next Sunday, accuses U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally turned chief political opponent, of hacking secret state communications, then manipulating recordings to smear him.
Erdogan’s declaration last week that he would root out Twitter, and the subsequent attempt to block it in Turkey, triggered denunciations from European officials and the U.S. government, which spoke of “21st century book burning”.
The move seemed to backfire fast. Internet analysts reported a surge in tweets as “workarounds” were shared on social media.
“It sort of seemed it wasn’t very well thought-out. There would have been better ways of blocking Twitter,” Runa Sandvik, a technologist at the U.S. based Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), told Reuters.
But over the weekend, authorities in Ankara began closing loopholes, triggering what Sandvik calls a “censorship arms race”, with users constantly shifting to different technology.
ALWAYS A WAY ROUND
“The question is, what will the government do next? I don’t think they will be able to block 100 percent, there will always be a way around the censorship, (it’s) whether they can make it difficult enough that users just give up,” Sandvik said.
Initially, many people delved into their computers’ settings to change the DNS or Domain Name System – effectively sending their traffic via different servers not initially subject to the ban. When the government caught on and blocked Twitter’s website directly, people turned to other technology to dodge the ban.
VPN software – which circumvents web-address-based bans – skyrocketed to the of top free download lists in Turkey’s online Apple and Android software stores.
Downloads of the VPN software Hotspot soared to more than a million in 72 hours from 10,000 a day before the ban, according to The roaring trade by David Gorodyansky, CEO of the continued…