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After Twitter Ban, Turkish Users Post Record Number of Tweets

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, March 21 2014

After Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blocked Twitter Thursday night, Turkish tweets spiked an impressive 138 percent. As of Friday morning, nearly 2.5 million tweets had been sent from Turkey. That's roughly 17,000 tweets per minute, a new record for Turkey.

After Turkish users began reporting widespread Twitter blocks, Twitter sent out a tweet with instructions on how to continue tweeting via SMS.

On the ground, users shared Google public domain name settings (DNS) numbers, which can be used to hide one's location.

This only works because the block was simplistic; in countries with more advanced censorship systems like China, something more—a virtual private network (VPN)—is needed.

Others began connecting to the web through VPNs—two VPN providers, ZenMate and Hotspot Shield, have both reported spikes in downloads and visitors.

For more information on these three methods of circumventing the Twitter block, see this Guardian article.

Zeynep Tufekci, technologist and sociologist, described what it was like watching the story develop on Twitter:

For the next three hours, I slowly watched my “Turkey” list on Twitter go from quiet to resurgent to defiant to jubilant to very, very crowded. People circumvented, one by one, and then in a flood.

First my Facebook lit on fire as Turkish friends shared tips and info on how to circumvent using proxies or DNS setting. Names of VPN companies started trending on Turkish Twitter because those who got on were discussing how to secure themselves for the next run. Hashtags started by expats started trending worldwide and then in places like Germany where there are a lot of people from Turkey.

Even political figures have spoken out against the ban via Twitter.

"The shutdown of an entire social platform is unacceptable," the Turkish president, Abdullah Gül, tweeted. "Besides, as I have said many times before, it is technically impossible to close down communication technologies like Twitter entirely. I hope this measure will not last long."

Another cabinet member tweeted to his 1.34 million followers about an upcoming election rally after the ban was in place.

In February, President Gül signed a new Internet law, expanding the government's censorship capabilities, but Tufekci says that those capabilities are not yet in place. She thinks (and hopes) that it might be too late:

The new censorship in surveillance law in Turkey allows for stronger, URL-based blocking that merely tweaking DNS settings would not get around. The new infrastructure of censorship is being built, but it’s not here yet. It’s too late. The networked public sphere is entrenched and people are looking into VPN and other solutions en masse. The toothpaste is out of this tube. The only people who are not circumventing will be government supporters who want to respect the ban or maybe some elderly people who do not have relatives to show them how—the YouTube ban was widely circumvented. Future blocking infrastructure may be more aggressive but that probably won’t work unless they also ban all VPNs in Turkey as well—therefore crippling businesses.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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