This Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister (Read: dictator) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan joined a short list of countries that have moved to block Twitter access, in hopes of shutting down a major platform for political opposition. "The international community can say this, can say that. I don't care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is," he said on the campaign trail ahead of local elections on March 30.
Over the past few weeks, Twitter users in the country have been posting documents and voice recordings from officials in Erdoğan's inner circle, purportedly showing evidence in corruption. A few hours later, users woke up and tried to login, only to receive a message citing four court orders as the government’s basis for blocking the service.
The reality is that 35% of Turkey’s 24 million internet users tweeted in the last month, according to a recent GlobalWebIndex survey, which ranks it as the fifth most active country in the world by percentage of active users in the population. Shutting down the site might sound like an actual blow to free speech, until you realize that the number one most active country by sheer volume is China, the only country in the world where the service is totally, outright banned.
Still, 79 million (19%) of China’s 491 million internet users have tweeted in the last month.
This astounding fact tells us that regardless of censorship techniques, the general public is way more tech savvy than governments give them credit for. Blocking Twitter, in fact, doesn’t look like much of a block at all, thanks to intricate workarounds and instructions sent out from Twitter themselves, and thanks to instructions on how to bypass the block being pasted and sprayed all over the country’s streets.
In fact, 77% of the tweets sent using Thursday's globally trending #twitterblockedinturkey hashtag came from within the country’s borders, according to Mashable, at a rate of 17,000 tweets a minute.
Whether Erdoğan (or leadership in Beijing, for that matter) like it or not, the deep penetration of social media into the everyday life of internet users has made old censorship techniques invalid. In the words of Ai WeiWei, one of China’s most notorious tweeters and dissenters, “the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word - even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.”
When Twitter had its initial public offering in November, I wrote that “Twitter’s success might depend on international tolerance” of dissent through the medium. Attempting to shut down the service in the fifth most notorious tweeting country might sound like it would cause Twitter’s stocks to crash significantly.
But when you look at the tickers, it looks like just another day for the company, though Wall Street and others are keeping a close watch. If I had to bet, I would say that in the long run, technology, ingenuity and resistance will prevail. Regardless of what China and Turkey think, Twitter is here to stay.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.