Turkey declared war on the Internet this week when its regime decided that it did not like the portrayal of its leader in social media. Accusing them of bias, the Telecommunication’s Department issued a directive ordering the immediate blocking of Twitter across its territory. The reason for the ban was because the prosecutor office stated that it had received complaints from members of the public that their privacy was being violated, and to respond to such demands the site had to be taken down. The real reason is merely electoral in nature, as the government would like to minimise criticism on the run-up to local elections.
It is interesting that the Turkish authorities have tried to make a legal case for the block, as if it would somehow make more palatable the laughably transparent attempt to curtail freedom of speech. The justification goes something like this: Turkish citizens have been affected by Twitter posts, and the site refuses to help. There is a court order that compels the site to remove the offending content which has not been complied with, so in order to defend Turkish citizens the entire site will be blocked. It’s like trying to cure a headache with an axe. The government officially commented:
“In the ongoing situation, Twitter has remained indifferent to remove certain links despite court orders favoring the citizens of the Turkish Republic [...] We came to the conclusion that in order to relieve our citizens, there is no way left beyond blocking Twitter, which disregards court orders, does not obey the rule of law”.
In a twisted way you have to admire their determination, sort of in the same way that one admires Wile E. Coyote in his endless attempts to capture the Roadrunner. But just as the Carnivorous Vulgaris is doomed to constant failure, so are the feeble attempts to block online services. As soon as the block was placed, Twitter announced ways in which the block could be bypassed. Initially, the block involved a version of DNS poisoning, meaning that the country’s DNS servers were instructed to redirect all traffic to Twitter.com to a page stating that the service was unavailable. This was easily circumvented if users changed their DNS server to those provided by their ISP or local authority, to an international and open DNS service such as Google Public DNS or Open DNS. Turkey retaliated by closing access to Google’s DNS serivice, but other open DNS services were available.
So the next step was for them to block Twitter’s IP address throughout the country. This works not at the DNS level, but it blocks Twitters traffic from even entering the country by imposing an IP block in the same way that a firewall can be configured to block specific IP addresses. The best way to get around an IP block of this nature is through virtual private networks (VPN), but this is not something that can be done by everyone in the country. Users however, still are able to tweet from within Turkey by using SMS. Responding to the inevitable Streisand effect, the result has been that Twitter traffic has increased by 138% after the ban, making Twitter more popular than ever.
Let us hope that the ban ends soon and the Turkish authorities see the light. Banning communication never ends well, and the Internet always finds a way to work around such anomalies as these.