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Twitter shutdown

Senada Sokollu / sstMarch 22, 2014

Turkey has blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Erdogan threatened to "rip out the roots" of the site. But his move could backfire as many tech-savvy users find ways to circumvent the ban.

Erdogan's picture on Twitter under a magnifying glass (photo: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
Image: Reuters

Access to micro-blogging site Twitter is now blocked in Turkey. This comes after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's push for a ban of social media network.

"We will wipe out Twitter. I don't care what the international community says," he told followers at a rally in the run-up to March 30 local elections. Everyone could expect to see Turkey's strength, he added while drumming up support in the northwestern city of Bursa on Thursday (20.03.2014).

According to Turkish newspaper "Hürriyet," Erdogan's press department issued a statement shortly afterward to explain the prime minster's decree. Twitter had "ignored" Turkish court orders to remove certain links after Turkish citizens had filed complaints. On Friday (21.03.2014), Turkish newspaper "Radikal" published a statement by the public prosecutor's office which said that there was no court order to block Twitter.

Shortly after the ban was imposed, Turkish President Abdullah Gul made headlines by strongly criticizing the decision to block the platform. "One cannot approve of the complete closure of social media platforms," Gul tweeted, clearly circumventing the ban. "I hope this implementation won't last long."

Gul, a frequent user of social media, has been critical of Erdogan's censorship moves long before - he chafed at the beginning of March when Erdogan demanded YouTube and Facebook be blocked. "YouTube and Facebook are recognized platforms all over the world. A ban is out of the question," Gul said at the time.

Criticism continues online, despite the ban

According to market researchers GlobalWebIndex, around 40 percent of Turkish Internet users are registered on Twitter. After the ban was imposed, shortly after midnight, people turned to other social media platforms such as Facebook to vent about the Erdogan administration.

Turkey's President Abdullah Gül (photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkey's president has criticized Erdogan's move and says Twitter should not be blockedImage: A.Kisbenede/AFP/GettyImages

"It's such a shame to have Erdogan as prime minister. I fear he is going to shut down the entire country," a Facebook user wrote. "My beloved democratic country! After the elections you are going to block Facebook as well. These messages are the last bits of our freedom," another posted. People also drew comparisons to other countries where Twitter is blocked. "What countries are blocking Twitter? Yes indeed, Turkey is now on the same level as China," a Facebook user wrote.

Shortly after the ban was imposed, people began sharing tips via cell phone apps and videos on how to circumvent the ban by changing one's DNS settings to allow access to Twitter. "It took me two minutes to change the DNS settings; I can now use Twitter again," a Facebook user wrote. This trick was picked up by millions of other Twitter users. Just a few hours after Twitter was blocked, hashtags like #TwitterisblockedinTurkey and #TurkeyBlockedTwitter were top of the global hashtag ranks.

Despite the ban, members of the Turkish government have continued to tweet as well - like Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc who announced that Erdogan's Justice and Development Party's (AKP) election campaign would be in the province of Manisa on Friday. "Arinc uses Twitter for his daily election campaign? Now I'm confused. Why then block the site at all?" a user complained.

Social media pressures Erdogan

Erdogan's fight against Twitter started last year when protests in Istanbul's Gezi Park were in full swing. He publicly called the platform a "menace," stressing again and again that Twitter was distributing lies. In the past year, Twitter has been used as the main means of communication for millions of demonstrators in Turkey. Mass protests were widely organized via the service.

A computer screen in Turkey (photo BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
People in Turkey have to resort to tricks to be able to access TwitterImage: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

But Erdogan and his government have increasingly come under pressure - more so after a corruption scandal involving the Erdogan administration was unveiled in mid-December. Since then, alleged telephone conversations between Erdogan and his son Bilal were leaked and published on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. In these conversations, Erdogan reportedly told his son to hide huge sums of money. It's still unclear to this date who is responsible for publishing these recordings. Erdogan has accused a parallel state led by US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former political ally of Erdogan.

Media expert Asli Tunc of Istanbul's Bilgi University told DW that shutting down Twitter doesn't make sense. "It's very hard to fight such technology. There will be software and programs that help people circumvent the ban," she said. The Turkish government blocked YouTube a couple of years ago, but even back then there had been many possibilities to circumvent the ban.

Amnesty International has also strongly criticized the ban and called on the Turkish government to immediately reinstate access to Twitter. "The decision to block Twitter is an unprecedented attack on Internet freedom and freedom of expression," Amnesty International said in a statement.