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Defiance picks up pace against Turkey’s Twitter ban

    Members of the Turkish Youth Union hold cartoons depicting Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a protest against a ban on Twitter, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, March 21, 2014.

ISTANBUL >> Users were deftly employing workarounds to defy the blackout of Twitter in Turkey, leading to increases in the volume of messages posted from the country, as the government’s ban of the popular social networking site entered its second day Saturday.

Estimates by data services said millions of tweets have been sent in the first 36 hours of the ban, including some by President Abdullah Gul, who was critical of the move, and pro-government newspapers, which have posted messages trying to justify the decision.

Social media rating agency Somera said usage of Twitter increased by 33 percent since the ban went into effect, just a week before local elections.

Hashtags about the ban were trending both inside the country and abroad, making the topic of Twitter in Turkey one of the most talked about issues on social media.

The ban started hours after embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to "root out" Twitter, which has been utilized by anonymous users to publish audio recordings appearing to implicate the country’s political elite in bribery and corruption.

Erdogan has previously pledged to consider action against Facebook and YouTube. The video sharing site was previously blocked in the country for two years.

The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed sources as saying YouTube was again being dragged into the dispute after Google, the site’s owner, allegedly ignored requests from the government to remove videos about corruption.

The Sabah newspaper printed a list of 16 reasons given by the prime minister’s office for the ban. One specifically referenced the online wiretap leaks, including recordings of Erdogan’s private conversations.

"Twitter has become a way for gangs to post illegally obtained montages and voice recordings of a person, which leads way to character assassination," according to reason number four on the list.

Data-crunching services estimated some 17,000 tweets were being sent a minute from the country. While initially usage dipped in the early hours of Friday, users quickly discovered workarounds.

Some of the most popular methods included changing DNS settings to public domains, employing proxy networks known as VPNs, connecting via the Tor network of virtual tunnels and similar systems, many of which are free.

Graffiti and posters went up around Istanbul publicizing the ways to get around the ban. Some Turkish television and radio stations also explained to their audiences how to circumvent the blackout.

However, one of the easiest ways to tweet around the ban was experiencing problems on Saturday, as many users reported that Google’s public DNS was no longer accessible.

Humor has also been deployed. One cartoon depicted Erdogan trying to shoot the blue Twitter mascot, which was on his foot. Another showed him using pepper spray on the blue bird, a reference to heavy handed police tactics for dispersing anti-government protests with tear gas and water cannons.

Turkey has been facing criticism from Western government and free speech organizations. Many European leaders condemned the move, with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt saying the "stupid efforts" were backfiring.

The White House said it was deeply concerned and would "support the people of Turkey in their calls to restore full access to the blocked technologies."

Turkey passed a controversial new Internet law last month which allows the government to track users’ browsing history and block websites or specific web pages.

Even prior to the new law, some 40,000 sites were blocked in the country, which also has the highest number of jailed journalists.

The government says it attempted to have Twitter itself block accounts it found problematic, but the company declined.

"Twitter officials have been neglecting hundreds of court decisions since January," the government said, in an apparent reference to law suits brought by members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) against accounts that they claimed were in violation of privacy laws.

"We stand with our users in Turkey who rely on Twitter as a vital communications platform. We hope to have full access returned soon," Twitter’s policy team said in a tweet, posted in English and Turkish.

Hurriyet newspaper said the company had employed a lawyer who was engaged in talks with the government, seeking to end the ban.

Experts have cautioned that the government’s ways of blocking websites may become more sophisticated in the future, making workarounds more difficult.

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