How Turkey's Twitter Users are Working Around the Ban

How Turkey's Twitter Users are Working Around the Ban

Twitter is now banned in Turkey, after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised to "root out" the social media service during an election rally this week. So naturally, Twitter use in the country is still going strong. Despite the court-ordered ban, it seems as if pretty much everyone can tweet, including the country's president, Abdullah Gul. As translated by the Guardian, Gul protested the ban on Twitter:

The shutdown of an entire social platform is unacceptable...Besides, as I have said many times before, it is technically impossible to close down communication technologies like Twitter entirely. I hope this measure will not last long."

For now, at least, there are an abundance of options for Turkish Twitter users who'd like the tweet their thoughts on the ban — or anything else. 

Wait. Why is this happening? The short version is probably this: Turkey has elections on March 30, and Prime Minister Erdoğan hates social media. Although he's been promising a Twitter ban for awhile, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation's excellent explainer on the ban notes, many reports cite a specific inconvenient bit of information that became public first on the network. Weeks ago, an anonymous Twitter and YouTube user posted what appears to be an audio recording of the elected official openly discussing a scheme to distribute cash among a bunch of safe houses. Erdoğan has denied that the tapes are real. 

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Here's how users are getting around the block.

Method 1: Google DNS, or other global DNS servers

The initial Turkish Twitter block appears to be something simple, called a DNS block. DNS, (domain name system) servers aren't something the average internet user would see in action — until something goes wrong. They're basically switchboard operators, translating the domain name you type into your browser to the IP address for that site. Google provides has its own public DNS servers, and Turkish tweeters have successfully made their way around the DNS blocks by switching over to them. In order to spread the word, people are spray painting graffiti with Google's DNS in highly visible locations. 

As Mashable points out, Turkish Twitter users have also had some luck with other reliable global DNS servers, like OpenDNS. This isn't the simplest way to circumvent the ban, but it's a good one. Google has more detailed instructions on how to switch over to a public DNS, here

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Method 2: SMS/Texting 

Twitter informed Turkish users of this workaround  in Turkish and English right after the ban. "you can send Tweets using SMS," the company advised, providing the following instructions for different telecom services: "Avea and Vodafone text START to 2444. Turkcell text START to 2555." This is probably the easiest workaround in use, if all you want to do is send some tweets out into the world. For now, at least: as the Wall Street Journal notes, it would be pretty simple for the Turkish government to ask telecom companies working in the country to block those texts, too. 

Method 3: VPNs, Tor, and Proxies  

Although the DNS and SMS methods seem to be the more reliable options right now, virtual private networks, or VPNs, are already familiar to many internet users in Turkey. They allow a private connection to the internet, and are often used by businesses as a way to allow employees to more securely connect into a network from a remote location. Although it often costs money, users with reliable VPNs should be able to access Twitter with few issues. Turkish tweeters could also download Tor, a standard tool for anonymizing internet use. Or, there are always proxy servers from other countries, another common method that sometimes allows access to content blocked in a certain country. 

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All this could change if Turkey decides to use a more robust block on the site, however. And, the country could end up blocking more ways of sharing information. The Prime Minister has implied that he might expand the social media ban to include other sites like Facebook and YouTube. 

Update: To put things in perspective, Mashable has some states on Twitter usage from Turkey since the ban: Twitter users there managed to sent 1.2 million tweets since the ban was imposed last night. 

Update 2: The White House said in a statement that it is "deeply concerned" about Turkey's Twitter block: 

The United States is deeply concerned that the Turkish government has blocked its citizens’ access to basic communication tools.  We oppose this restriction on the Turkish people’s access to information, which undermines their ability to exercise freedoms of expression and association and runs contrary to the principles of open governance that are critical to democratic governance and the universal rights that the United States stands for around the world.  We have conveyed our serious concern to the Turkish government, urge Turkish authorities to respect the freedom of the press by permitting the independent and unfettered operation of media of all kinds, and support the people of Turkey in their calls to restore full access to the blocked technologies.

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