All Tech Considered
Fri March 21, 2014
So You Want To Evade Your Country's Twitter Ban? A Workaround
Originally published on Sun March 23, 2014 8:41 pm
The Turkish prime minister vowed to "eradicate" Twitter in a speech on Thursday, likely because he's been treated unkindly on there, and he has an election to win, people! Hours later, the social media platform went dark for some Turkish users, The Guardian reports.
But it turns out that blocking a service used by five million Turkish residents, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, takes more than an angry politician clutching a court order. As the Financial Times reports, the Twitter shutdown wasn't immediately embraced, to say the least:
"In a sign of the difficulty of maintaining the ban, even Bulent Arinc, Mr Erdogan's deputy prime minister, tweeted his plans for the day, while pro-government newspapers also used the site to publicise their stories. News television stations also informed their viewers on various procedures to overcome the ban, while Twitter itself instructed Turks on how to send tweets via text message."
Here are Twitter's instructions:
In this highly connected, tech-savvy world that we live in, the idea of a country banning a website does seem a little futile. How does it work? And how do residents bypass government bans?
To understand the logistics, you first have to understand that the Internet is, at its most basic level, a physical network. Black, boxy servers around the U.S. host Twitter's website; those are connected to a network of wires that ultimately end up in your house. If you live in Turkey, the Internet literally travels across underwater cables in the Pacific Ocean and across country lines. Cool, right?
Servers can be reached by a four-part number called an IP address. When you type Twitter.com into your browser, your computer talks to your Internet service provider's servers, which then use the Domain Name System (DNS) to look up Twitter's servers' IP address. It directs your request there, wherever in the world those servers may be sitting.
To use a simpler analogy: Imagine calling an operator and saying, "I want to talk to my friend Twitter." You don't know Twitter's phone number, but the operator can look it up in the phone book and connect you. Your Internet company is essentially your operator on the Internet.
In more closed-off countries such as China, the Internet borders are very secure: The government filters web traffic at almost every physical pathway into the country. But Turkey, it seems, is essentially just telling the operator to erase Twitter's listing in the Internet "phone book." Twitter.com won't connect to anything — but the site is still very much accessible in other ways.
Residents can still see the site as long as they don't use their Turkish Internet provider's DNS servers. Instead, they can configure their computers to use Google's public DNS look-up.
"The way that it appears that Turkey has blocked Twitter can be defeated just by simply changing a couple of settings on your computer," says Mike Tigas, a developer at ProPublica.
He says he's not sure if Turkey was aware that getting around its ban would be so easy. "Either they are unable to take more drastic measures, or they simply chose this more porous approach for some other reasons."
People can also use their phone to text tweets, as Twitter suggested, or use a VPN or proxy server to tunnel their Internet connection outside of the country.
People are "learning how to use this technology and learning what this technology is to meet this specific end," Tigas says. "That end is so you can communicate with other people."