Turkey Is About to Fail at Banning YouTube, Too

Censorship heats up in Turkey as reports suggest the Tor website is also blocked.

Image: Flickr/Tolga "Musato"

Continuing a long trail of internet censorship that’s heated up over the past months, Turkey today blocked access to Youtube. It’s just a week after the country blocked Twitter—or rather, attempted to—although that ban was at least temporarily lifted by a Turkish court only yesterday.

While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been mounting a stand against social media in general for a while, the Youtube block is a particular blow for internet freedom and democracy in the country, ahead of elections this weekend.

The video site went down just hours after an anonymous Youtube account posted an audio recording of what they alleged was Turkey’s intelligence chief discussing military operations in Syria with other high-ranking officials. Reuters said they were unable to authenticate the recording but said it was “potentially the most damaging purported leak so far as it appeared to have originated from the bugging of a highly confidential and sensitive conversation.”

Erdogan’s war against social media is wrapped up in allegations of corruption that have been fuelled by leaks on sites like Youtube and Twitter, which he accuses of spreading misinformation in a plot against his government.

The Hurriyet Daily News confirms that the Youtube block was brought into effect by the government-appointed telecommunications directorate TIB, who acted on a controversial new internet law brought in earlier this year. The law allows sites to be blocked without a court order if they’re deemed to violate someone’s privacy—but quite whose privacy it’s really out to protect is questionable.

If the Twitter ban is anything to go by, blocking access to Youtube will only encourage more people in Turkey to visit the site—Twitter saw a record number of Turkish visits in the first day of its apparent block, with access easily attained by changing DNS settings, using VPNs, sending tweets by text, or taking to the deep web via browsers like Tor.

It's not the first time Turkey has tried to ban Youtube; it blocked access to the site over 2007 and 2008 owing to videos considered offensive to the first Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. But at that time, Youtube was still the eighth most popular site in Turkey, with even Erdogan memorably admitting he accessed it.

Judging by DNS addresses being shared on Twitter (and suggestions to just use Vimeo instead) it looks like Turkish web users are already finding ways around the latest block. 

But it also looks like the government might be wising up to a few of the tricks to get around bans as well: Net activists Telecomix Turkey just tweeted that the Tor Project website—from which you can download the Tor browser—has been blocked at DNS level. Of course, that won't put a stop to the cat-and-mouse game: Mirror sites are already being passed around.