Turkish and Chinese Social media users bypass crackdowns

March 23, 2014 at 7:38 PM EST
Hari Sreenivasan explores the methods social media users utilize to circumvent attempts to stifle online free speech. He talks with a 16-year-old in Istanbul who is dealing with Turkey’s official ban on Twitter using a VPN, or virtual private network.

TRANSCRIPT

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And now our occasional feature: The Connection. As we reported yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech in Beijing, where she talked about – among other things — the value of free speech, especially free speech online.

MICHELLE OBAMA:  …because time and again, we have seen that    Countries are stronger and more prosperous when the voices and opinions of all their citizens can be heard.

HARI SREENIVASAN:   Her comments were notable because she made them in China, which blocks websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube…just like Iran does – as our reporter saw during a recent trip there.

Earlier this week, Turkey became the latest nation to try and control what its citizens see and hear online.

Prime Minister Erdogan threatened to quote “wipe out” Twitter, and then took steps to block it.  He was facing a barrage of corruption charges — many of which were amplified and spread across social media services.

But Twitter, like the rest of the internet, doesn’t get ‘wiped out’ very easily. Turkey’s Internet users quickly found ways to get back on it.

Twitter itself sent out a simple workaround, which was relayed across the web. Some people posted graffiti showing easy instructions how to redirect your computer around the censors.

And yesterday I talked with Yahya Ozel in Istanbul. This 16 year old is already tech savvy enough to use what’s called a VPN, which lets your computer pretend to be somewhere else.

YAHYA OZEL: They change your virtual location, so right now I’m “in Virginia”

HARI SREENIVASAN: So you’re in Istanbul, your computer is pretending to be in Virginia, where Twitter works just fine.

YAHYA OZEL: Yes, it is.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  This resiliency has been built into the Internet. It’s become a decentralized, free-ranging, global forum –  creating a technological game of whack a mole — every time a frustrated government tries to suppress it,  it pops right back up again in several other places letting voices of dissent be heard.

You can see my entire interview with the 16 year old from Istanbul at newshour.pbs.org