Tor Anonymous Browser Usage Surges as Turkey Bans Twitter
If at first you don’t succeed — find a workaround.
Thousands of people inside of Turkey are flocking to Tor, the anonymous Web browser software freely distributed on the Internet, after the Turkish government blocked use of Twitter inside the country last week.
As of Tuesday morning, Tor traffic from users directly connecting out of Turkey was around 55,000 people, more than double the number of Turkish users on the software just days before the government instituted the ban of the microblogging service.
The Tor browser allows users to bypass the government’s block by rerouting Internet traffic through “onion nodes,” essentially one of a few workarounds that circumvents Turkey’s IP-level ban.
The government enacted the ban last week after anonymous users posted clips that allegedly featured Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a number of other government officials engaging in bribery and corruption. Shortly after the clips began to circulate, Erdogan used a court order to force Turkey’s central telecommunications service to ban the use of Twitter on the network.
The ban is yet another act of censorship by the government in Turkey’s long, complicated history concerning its citizens and free expression online. Seven years ago, Turkish officials banned all viewing of YouTube within the country after videos surfaced that were critical of Turkey and its citizens; the ban was lifted two years later in 2010.
But the latest ban comes at a critical time for Erdogan and his allies in the Turkish government, who face a series of local elections in the coming weeks that could unseat officials in Istanbul and Ankara, two areas in which the leading AK party is fiercely campaigning.
Twitter issued statements of support, working to restore access to Turkish citizens last week. “We stand with our users in Turkey who rely on Twitter as a vital communications platform,” Twitter’s policy team said in a tweet. “We hope to have full access returned soon.” The company also assured Turkish users on Monday of their account privacy, as reports began circulating that Twitter was handing over information on Turkish users to the state.
The White House, too, delivered messages of support to the Turkish people, chastising Erdogan and officials for the Twitter censorship.
“We oppose this restriction on the Turkish people’s access to information, which undermines their ability to exercise freedoms of expression and association,” the White House said in a statement. “We have conveyed our serious concern to the Turkish government, urge Turkish authorities to respect the freedom of the press by permitting the independent and unfettered operation of media of all kinds, and support the people of Turkey in their calls to restore full access to the blocked technologies.”
While the Turkish government continues to find new ways of blocking its citizens from accessing the microblogging website, thus far using Tor has remained a reliable way of bypassing government restrictions.