Mike Orcutt

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Data Show Turkey’s Tweeters Beating Ban

Tweets in Turkish are down but not out, even as Turkey’s prime minister tries to block Twitter inside the country.

  • March 24, 2014

New data suggest that the efforts of Turkey’s prime minister to “wipe out” Twitter have had only limited success.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared the ban after Turkish users of the site began to spread audio recordings that seem to implicate him in a corruption scandal. Figures for the number of tweets made in Turkish record a significant reduction in volume but also indicate that many Turkish Twitter users have successfully circumvented the restrictions. People have been sidestepping the ban by various means, including using virtual private network (VPN) services and the Tor anonymizing network.

This can be seen in the graph below, created by the analytics firm Semiocast. The dark purple bars represent the number of tweets in Turkish posted per hour beginning last Thursday, the day Erdoğan called for the ban. The lighter purple bars refer to the numbers for the previous week.

Initially, the government ordered ISPs in the country to block Twitter and redirect traffic to a government Web page. But this was fairly simple to circumvent—for example, by sending tweets via SMS (something Twitter encouraged), or by configuring one’s network settings to point to a public DNS service outside of Turkey. Over the weekend, however, Turkey’s government went one step further by blocking traffic to IP addresses assigned to Twitter. The result, as the graph shows, was a further incremental reduction in Turkish-language tweets. In the past 24 hours, the share of all public tweets in Turkish was 1.58 percent—down from 2.04 percent yesterday, 2.36 percent on Saturday, and 2.98 percent one week ago, according to Paul Guyot, cofounder and analyst at Semiocast.

Turkish-language tweets are a better proxy than location data for Twitter use in Turkey, says Guyot, because Turkish is not widely spoken outside of Turkey, and because in the event of a ban, location data attached to tweets can be unreliable. Methods used to get around a ban can lead to false location data being attached to tweets, and sometimes people outside a country switch their location as a show of protest or solidarity. When Twitter was banned in Iran during election protests several years ago, for example, many users around the world listed their location as Iran.

Figures from the Tor Project provide another view of the Turkish determination to keep using Twitter. Figures for the past few days show a large increase in the number of users connecting to the anonymity network from Turkey.

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