With a major corruption scandal threatening his seat at the top of Turkey’s government, and with national elections less than 10 days away, the country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, issued a statewide ban on Twitter late Thursday night that sent shockwaves through the country.
Telecom regulators were able to restrict user access, as issued by court order, using a simple DNS block: If a user’s IP address is on the block list, they cannot access the website or service in question. Countries like China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have called for worldwide DNS restrictions before.
Before the ban was enforced, Erdoğan vowed to “eradicate” Twitter from the country in an election speech, apparently after the company had reportedly refused to delete incriminating audio of him instructing his son to dispose of large amounts of cash in the midst of a police investigation. News of the Twitter restriction soon rippled across the Internet, and instructions for skirting the DNS block using VPN (virtual private networks) and Google DNS–both of which change your IP address–quickly spread. Similarly, Twitter issued instructions to Turkish users on how to send tweets using SMS:
While Turkey has blocked services like YouTube before, this is the first time the government has used its authority to block a mobilizing platform like Twitter. Criticism of Erdoğan’s move to stifle the voices of Turkish citizens was swift and cutting. “The Twitter ban in #Turkey is groundless, pointless, cowardly,” tweeted Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission. “Turkish people and intl community will see this as censorship. It is.” Turkish president Abdullah Gül also chimed in, perhaps indicatively, from his Twitter account: “The shutdown of an entire social platform is unacceptable,” he tweeted.
In the hours after the social media restrictions were announced, it was reported that almost 2.5 million tweets were sent from Turkey–amounting to roughly 17,000 tweets per minute–setting a new record for Twitter use in the country.