Circumventing Twitter Restrictions

Circumventing Twitter Restrictions

Turkey blocked Twitter. If you happen to have been on vacation over the weekend or haven’t had a chance to check out the newspaper in a few days, The Washington Post and Reuters both have good write ups on the potential political fallout of this Twitter block as well as some background information on the situation. The interesting thing, as noted in the Washington Post article, is that this “restriction” has had little effect on Twitter chatter within the country. In fact, in the aftermath of discovering that they were no longer able to access Twitter, tweets spiked to 138 percent of the normal posting rate, an ironic feat in light of the ban. This statistic begs the question, “How are Turks tweeting, and tweeting rapidly, and about a Twitter ban?”

Well, the answer is simple and not so simple. Turkey has faced routine website blocking for the better part of the last decade, most notably the 2008 restriction of access to Youtube (which was in effect for 2 years). By now, most Turks, especially the younger generation, are well acquainted with the various measures for circumventing such restrictions. In case you are not, here are a few of the ways to access Twitter in the event of a block.

  1. SMS

On March 20th, Twitter sent out a tweet instructing Turks how they could tweet via SMS on both Vodafone and Turkcell networks. SMS tweets are popular in areas with limited access to internet data, but in this case the service is proving to be multi-functional. Users can also receive tweets from friends that the user designates they would like to receive mobile tweets from. Obviously Twitter via SMS lacks much of the user experience of the broader Twitter app and website, but it still proves to be an effective work around.

  1. Changing your DNS

Initially using a proxy server was a choice method for Turks. In the immediate aftermath of restrictions going into place, graffiti began popping up on Istanbul’s street corners displaying popular Google Public DNS and However, this method was short lived as the government closed this back door by blocking access to the Google service.

  1. Connecting to a VPN

Another popular choice is to download a VPN shield. In the first 12 hours after the Twitter restrictions went into effect, the popular Hotspot Shield, a free mobile app, saw 120,000 downloads. In case you are unfamiliar with VPNs, they serve as a tool to allow users to surf the web anonymously through servers in the U.S. and around the world. The system also serves to encrypt the data of its users.

  1. Use an anonymity network or specialty dashboard service

According to Tor Project’s data metrics, usage of the platform has grown from 25,000 to over 40,000 since the implementation of Twitter restrictions.

The Social Media dashboard HootSuite reports that traffic to its service has tripled since the enactment of Turkey’s Twitter restrictions. Users can subscribe to a limited version of the service for free, or pay a monthly fee to broader usage.  Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes said the company is preparing to unlock other HootSuite domain names should the current one eventually be blocked by the government.

In a country with 10 million Twitter users, the 8th highest internet penetration rate in any country in the world, Twitter repression in Turkey was not destined to go unnoticed. Indeed, Turks have tweeted more than 2.5 billion times since the ban went into effect; Hastags such as #TwitterIsBlockedinTurkey and #ErdoganBlocksTwitter trended globally well into Thursday night. With elections upcoming at the end of the month, it remains unclear if the site is “gone” for good in Turkey, or merely on hiatus at the hand of the government until after ballots are cast.