The Turkish Government Defended Its Twitter Ban … on Twitter

The World
How It Works
March 21 2014 12:10 PM

Streisand in Ankara

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency may have set a new standard for unintentional authoritarian comedy by using Twitter to promote a statement by the country’s deputy prime minister defending the country’s Twitter ban.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

In general the Turkish government’s botched attempt today to block Twitter ahead of local elections next week was almost comically ineffective. Turkey almost made Sudan look savvy by comparison.

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Users were able to easily circumvent the ban using virtual private networks and TOR routers. and Twitter informed users how they could tweet by text message.

The hashtag ‪#TwitterisblockedinTurkey was soon trending around the world, memes were proliferating, and the overall number of tweets from Turkey increased by 138 percent. Even high-profile members of the ruling party were apparently VPNing. The mayor of Ankara, a prolific tweeter and member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, sent out a smiley.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that Turkish Twitter users were ready for this one. With the eighth-most Twitter users, Turkey may have the highest Twitter penetration rate in the world. But social media, and Twitter in particular, has been a constant source of irritation for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, currently facing a series of crises including an ongoing corruption scandal, recurrent street protests, and a high-profile feud with supporters of the influential cleric Fethullah Gülen. Turkey also now leads the world in Google takedown requests.

Twitter had been used to circulate a series of recordings that purportedly document corruption in Erdoğan’s inner circle, and just hours before the shutdown, the prime minister had threatened to “wipe out” the site.

But as sociologist and social media expert Zeynep Tufekci, who also highlighted the examples above, put it in an excellent analysis, “people in Turkey have banned the ban.”

Erdoğan has found himself the latest victim of the “Streisand effect,” in which attempts to censor information online only cause it to spread more rapidly.

Without actually managing to stop anyone from tweeting, Erdoğan managed to give the opposition a new cause to rally around, focus more international media attention on the country’s ongoing scandals—the Western media is somewhat interested in corruption stories but extremely interested in tech stories—and seems to have widened a rift with his ally, President Abdullah Gül, who has strongly criticized the ban … on Twitter, naturally.

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