Twitter ban sparks 'arms race' with tech savvy Turks

Tue Mar 25, 2014 10:14am EDT
 
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By Jonny Hogg

ANKARA (Reuters) - 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.   Continued...

 
Demonstrators, members of the Turkish Youth Union, shout anti-government slogans during a protest against a Twitter ban, in Ankara March 21, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer