A new censorship drive is reportedly underway in Turkey with access to popular websites restricted.
The website TurkeyBlocks published a report on Friday which claimed that WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are all blocked. The sites have been subject to either complete bans or connection throttling.
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are commonly blocked in Turkey, but now it appears that WhatsApp and Instagram cannot be accessed either. TurkeyBlocks is a group which monitors censorship and the internet in the country.
TurkeyBlocks reports that the access restrictions began at around 1:20 AM local time. They were still in place on Friday lunchtime.
Users of popular messaging app WhatsApp had complained about service failure. The detection of the access restriction provides an explanation for those reports. This is the first time in a few years that restrictions have been imposed on popular messaging apps.
It is thought that the restrictions were linked to the arrest and detainment of key figures in the opposition HDP political party. There were also police raids carried out at the party headquarters in Ankara. Authorities issued orders for the detention of 15 members of parliament, with 11 arrested at HDP headquarters.
Coverage of political events restricted
Monitoring probes placed by TurkeyBlocks have found that the slowdowns were caused by throttling at the ISP level. Most users have been affected.
The national provider TTNet was the first to be affected, followed by Turkcell and other major ISPs. According to TurkeyBlocks the government is increasingly turning to internet restrictions in an attempt to dampen coverage of political events. The group says that the censorship is used in an attempt to prevent the spread of civil unrest.
This week sources also reported a complete shutting down of internet connections in the southeast of the country, affecting millions of people. The shutdown allegedly stopped patients from receiving medical supplies and badly affected infrastructure.
According to analysts social media throttling is commonly used following national emergencies. This can include terror attacks. Throttling prevents media coverage from being posted and can allow the government to try and control the narrative surrounding an event.
Turkey has form for imposing access restrictions
In October, Turkish authorities also restricted access to Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Drive. It is thought that the cloud storage services were restricted to slow the spread of leaked private emails from Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Berat Albayrak. The minister is the son-in-law of current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Experts say that using VPN tunnels can help to get around throttling. Turkey is just one of some nations around the world which control internet access as a political tool.
WhatsApp has also run into problems in Brazil due to its policy on not releasing user data. Brazilian courts have ordered the company to release chat logs that are important for certain trials, but WhatsApp maintains that it is not able to do so.
Executives say that the use of end-to-end encryption means that it is not within the company’s power to retrieve and hand over data. However, this has not stopped judges in Brazil from ordering the app to be shut down on multiple occasions.
Each time the app gets shut down, more Brazilian users turn to alternatives such as Telegram. It is not clear whether the same phenomenon can be observed in Turkey.