On March 21, at around midnight Turkish users of Twitter were no longer able to access the service online. Well, almost.
Earlier that day, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was standing on a stage, with a microphone in hand and the scarf of the local soccer team over his shoulder addressing a large crowd of Bursa residents. There was a lot of frustration and anger in his speech — and promises too.
“This attack, is not against my personality. This attack is not against the prime minister,” he shouted, referring to a recent graft scandal against him, the ruling party and some key businessmen. “This attack is against Turkey. It is against our Turkey!”
Listening to their prime minister on that stage, the local crowd cheered with Erdogan as he vowed to stop this “cowardly attack.” He looked defiant.
“International conspirators are part of this plot [of attack],” Erdogan declared. “You know this Twitter? There is a court order now. This Twitter, schmitter, we are going to extirpate. Yes, yes, all of them! And I do not care what the international community has to say!”
As the crowd continued to applaud, Erdogan continued to make promises — of winning in the next municipal elections, of showing everyone how strong the Turkish state is, of demonstrating how strong he has become.
Later that night, Erdogan was quick to follow up on at least one of the promises he made in his speech — shutting down Twitter. By midnight on March 21, the service was no longer available. Four different court orders forced all of the Internet providers as well as the mobile phone operators to block access to Twitter.
The ban is just one of many recent alarming developments in Turkey following a turbulent year, which began with an environmental outcry that grew into countrywide protests last summer, a corruption scandal against the ruling party and the prime minister in December, more demonstrations as a result of critical legislative amendments, and the death of a 15-year-old boy that sparked protests across the country earlier this month.
But instead of patching things up, listening to people’s demands and addressing some of the accumulated grievances against him and the ruling party in the run-up to local elections, the prime minister has decided to wage a war against everyone — the interest rate lobby, parallel state, international organizations, Zionists, a Turkish clerk living in Pennsylvania and social media platforms. But because it is difficult to challenge all of these enemies at once, the first strike came against social media.
There has been more civil disobedience over the previous year than in any other time in Turkey. The recent clamor of the country’s netizens only adds to this history. By some accounts, 2.5 million tweets were sent within the first three hours of Twitter getting blocked in Turkey, which has around 12 million Twitter users.
Needless to stay, Turkey’s Internet users come with experience, as Turkey also banned YouTube in 2008 for two years. It was then that DNS, VPN and bypass proxies were introduced to Turkey’s Internet jargon. Several newspapers released short notifications on how to bypass the blocked service. DNS alterations were painted on the walls across the city as graffiti.
But the most curious act of civil disobedience came from the president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, who is Erodgan’s supporter and friend. In one of his tweets following the ban, the president said, “One cannot approve of the complete closure of social media platforms.”
It looks like even the president of Turkey knows how to alter DNS servers or bypass blocked websites. As the local elections scheduled to take place on March 30 approach, whether the president can play a bigger role in undoing any of the Erdogan’s misdeeds is yet to be seen.