Ancient censorship mechanisms are no longer a problem for the young Turks who co-ordinate anti-government dissent
Thursday was Twitter’s eighth birthday. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s birthday present to the social media giant, and to millions of Turks who use it daily, was to block the site. At about 11.20pm last night, those who wanted to use Twitter were greeted by a message from the Telecommunications Presidency referencing a court order that blocked access to it.
Within minutes, detailed methods of bypassing the block by changing DNS numbers and using VPNs were shared via Facebook, WhatsApp and text message. Hashtags using the Turkish for “Twitter Is Blocked in Turkey”, “Turkey Blocked Twitter” and “Dictator Erdoğan” began trending worldwide almost immediately. When the official Turkish account of Twitter tweeted, “Turkish users can send Tweets using SMS” and gave detailed instructions, Turks were already ahead of the game.
Actually, there were no shortage of tweets sent from Turkey at all. TwitTurk, a website that records statistics of Turkish Twitter users, reported that more than 500,000 tweets were sent in the first two hours of the ban. Ironically enough, star names of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AKP), such as deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç and mayor of Ankara Melih Gökçek, continued tweeting well into today, causing jokes that even Erdoğan’s own colleagues are not taking him seriously.
What’s more, the AKP also continued to create promoted tweets and trends – services Twitter provides for a hefty amount of money. The hashtag “Gökçek Kuzey Yıldızı” (Gökçek North Star), a campaign sponsored by AKP’s Ankara branch to promote Gökçek’s controversial project to build a giant mosque in the capital, became the number one trending topic in Turkey in the first couple of hours of the ban. Another pro-AKP account promoted the ruling party’s recent television broadcast, depicting hundreds running towards a Turkish flag pole – in the fashion of zombies from World War Z – after hearing Erdoğan’s voice reading the national anthem.
As they did during the Occupy Gezi days, Turkish citizens created memes mocking the Twitter ban. However, neither the jokes or the fact that tech-savvy Turks bypassed the ban without batting an eyelid are enough to shield us from the grim reality behind recent censorship. Twitter has become pivotal in organising anti-government dissent in the past year: the Occupy Gezi movement, which marches against the recently passed internet censorship bill that allows the government to block any content within four hours without a court order, and the massive street protest and the funeral attended by hundreds of thousands after the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, were initiated via social media.
Twitter has also become the main channel for talking about corruption allegations implicating Erdoğan and his family. Anonymous accounts leak alleged phone recordings of Erdoğan. Waiting for new recordings to surface around 9pm each night has become the most popular pastime of millions of Turks, who then spread the news like wildfire. These accounts have been announcing that the mother of all recordings will come out on 25 March, a mere five days before the upcoming local elections. Erdoğan, aware of this, said yesterday in an election rally hours before the block took effect: “We will eradicate Twitter. I do not care what the international community says”.
It looks like the Turkish public does not care what Erdoğan says either. Recent history around the world and in Turkey showed us that social media is a serious threat to autocrats. Ancient censorship mechanisms, archaic politics and Orwellian threats do not work in the face of technological dissent and the voice of the streets.
When your old uncle gets you something out-of-touch for your birthday, what do yo do? You say thank you and then return it. Well, thank you Erdoğan, but we do not want your gift of censorship. Here is the receipt.
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663879/s/3876425b/sc/11/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Ccommentisfree0C20A140Cmar0C210Ctech0Esavvy0Eturks0Eerdogan0Etwitter0Eban0Ecensorship/story01.htm