The Turkish government has recently banned Twitter and is said to be “fighting a losing battle.”
Since Turkey banned Twitter and attempted to curb communications from its citizens, Turkish Twitter users have been using virtual private networks (VPN), anonymous browser Tor and text messages to get their voices heard. VPN Hotspot Shield reported a rise in iPhone and Android downloads of over 33,000% in the first 24 hours after the Twitter ban.
The Turkish authorities imposed the ban after allegations of government corruption were shared on Twitter and not removed by the site. Twitter however has not commented on the situation but the networking site did post instructions in both English and Turkish detailing how to tweet by text message. This method of tweeting requires no internet access.
Ryan Holmes of Hootsuite blogged that his service had experienced three times more traffic than usual after Turkey imposed the ban. The US Department of State has also added that this act of censorship is on a par with “…book burning.”
Doug Frantz from the Department’s Public Affairs said, “Turkey has nothing to fear in the free-flow of ideas and even criticism represented by Twitter. Its attempt to block its citizens’ access to social media tools should be reversed.”
To begin with, the ban took the form of domain name settings (DNS) redirection. Simply put this means that any Turkish resident attempting to access Twitter would be directed to a holding page.
Twitter users however were able to navigate this ban by using Google’s DNS service. Users only had to type Twitter’s IP into the address bar, and change some basic ISP settings. The IP address stands as a numerical variation of ‘Twitter.com.’
Rik Ferguson, Vice President at security research firm Trend Micro said, “It’s a bit like choosing which phone book you’re going to use. Trying to block communications via the internet is nigh on impossible unless you pull the plug entirely.”
Turkey has updated its censorship measures however and now the relevant IP addresses are also being blocked. This block extends to Google DNS and as such Turkish citizens are now turning to VPNs and anonymous web browser Tor. This has allowed users to get online without revealing their location.
According to Mr Ferguson it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
“VPN requires knowledge and financial investment in the form of a subscription. Tor has a reputation of being this complex beast, but that’s strictly not true – all you need to do is download the browser bundle.”
Ultimately though Twitter must abide by the laws of the countries in which it operates. And according to Mr Ferguson, “The Turkish government is now hopeful about talks with Twitter but the nature of social media is that it’s very fluid.”
The other problem for Twitter is what to do if it does decide to act. Removing offensive content relating to Turkish government corruption is an act of censorship. Something it seems the social networking site is wary of doing. One of the strengths of the online world is the ability for the every-day person to voice their concerns legitimate or otherwise.
For Twitter, it seems that the company will continue as it has done. The Turkish government seems set to learn a hard lesson; you can’t censor the internet.
Mr Ferguson posed one last question, “Do you remove the content entirely or make it inaccessible in the country where it is illegal? If you are deleting content entirely that falls more into the realms of censorship than legal compliance.”