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Turkey blocks Twitter as people use social media to share corruption evidence

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Turkish officials have blocked access to Twitter(s twtr), after people used the microblogging service to disseminate evidence of alleged corruption at the top of government.

The internet was already pretty restricted in Turkey before the passage of a law this past February, allowing local telecoms regulator TIB to demand the blockage of any website within 4 hours, without a court order. The law also requires ISPs to store web usage data for 2 years so authorities can go through it if they want.

According to AFP, it was only a matter of hours between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an threatening to “wipe out” Twitter in Turkey, and the blocks coming into force. On Friday, shortly after the blockade drew widespread condemnation, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said (via Twitter, ironically) that he doesn’t approve of blocking entire social media platforms. Turkey’s bar association has also filed a legal challenge.

“I don’t care”

“The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is,” Erdo?an told a rally on Thursday, according to Al Jazeera.

The first major reaction from the international community came from EU digital chief Neelie Kroes:

Meanwhile Twitter itself recommended that Turkish users circumvent the ban by falling back to the service’s original SMS-based mechanisms:

According to reports, Turkish people are also turning to Google’s DNS service to access Twitter — the government seems to have only instituted a DNS redirect, so that people trying to reach Twitter arrive at a government page instead, and bypassing the DNS resolution of Turkey’s ISPs should prove an effective measure.

ZenMate, a Berlin startup that provides a privacy protection extension for the Chrome browser, said on Friday morning that it had seen a huge spike in downloads from Turkey. Various other privacy outfits such as TunnelBear have also said they will help Turkish people bypass the blockade.

“We have seen 25,000 visitors from Turkey to the Chrome store in the last 12 hours,” ZenMate co-founder Simon Specka said in a statement. “We saw similar results following recent internet restrictions in Ukraine and Venezuela. Often this kind of spike is the first thing that alerts us to any issues in a region.”

Dodgy deals

While Twitter played a big part in the recent Gezi protests against Erdo?an and his administration, the reason for this blockage stems from an official graft inquiry that goes all the way to the top. The Turkish government imposed a media blackout on the investigation, which largely has to do with dodgy public tenders and construction projects, and damning evidence started regularly popping up through social media channels.

In February, a tape recording appeared on YouTube(s goog) that appeared to show Erdo?an telling his son over the phone that he should hide large sums of cash from investigators. Erdo?an claimed this was a montage made from fragments of conversation recorded by political enemies hacking into his encrypted communications.

On Tuesday a recording was publicized through Twitter of a conversation between an Erdo?an adviser and a senior Turkish Airlines employee, appearing to refer to a conspiracy to send illegal arms shipments to Nigeria. Then came recordings of Erdo?an telling a newspaper editor to fire journalists who wrote critical pieces about him.

The final straw may have been Thursday’s leaked recording of Erdo?an chiding an official for selling valuable land without his permission, supposedly again indicating his over-involvement in major public projects. As with the editorial conversation, this recording was publicized by a Twitter user called Ba?çalan, or “prime thief.”

The Twitter ban comes in the run-up to municipal elections on March 30 – Erdo?an gave his fiery Thursday speech at an election rally. The prime minister has threatened to ban YouTube and Facebook(s fb) too, after those elections.

This article was updated at 4.15am PT to note the Turkish president’s opposition to the move, and again at 4.30am PT to note the DNS workarounds that people are using.

6 Responses to “Turkey blocks Twitter as people use social media to share corruption evidence”

  1. knucklehead

    In the USA, SWAT thugs will kick in your door during dinner, point guns at your family, and seize all your computer equipment for posting photos of a phone found at a bar. Remember Jason Chen?

    Turkey’s reaction to illegal tweets seems mild by comparison.

  2. knucklehead

    Guess what happens in the USA if the court finds you slander or defame someone on Twitter? That’s right. The tweets get removed.

    Turkey wanted to do the same thing and Twitter refused:

    So Turkey shut them down. Since Twitter refused to comply with the law, they were blocked. The same would happen in the USA, but Twitter feels it doesn’t need to comply with Turkish law.

    • PrincetonAl

      I see many untrue things – or potentially slanderous – things said of President Obama here in the US. But no cares or sues or asks them to be brought down, and the standard for slander and defamation here for public officials is very different than in Turkey as currently being interpreted.

      Second, it is not at all clear when the issue is that government including the judiciary and PM are corrupt, that you can’t simply get a declaration of slander issued against what could be very much a true, well-supported factual set of allegations.

      Do you think that once you reach a fundamental breakdown and perversion of natural law and justice in the actual court system of a country, do you support the ability of Twitter to ignore that judgment? Do you believe the right of Twitter to allow users to post tweets in protest of totalitarian governments or those that taking dictatorial actions?

      Or do “laws” – however superficially similar to other countries but unjustly administered – need to be followed?

      Just askin’.