Turkey has blocked access to YouTube hours after what appeared to be a leaked audio recording of Turkish officials discussing Syria was posted on the video-sharing site.
TIB, the state telecoms authority, announced Thursday that an "administrative measure” had been taken against the site in Turkey, as users across the country reported they were unable to access it.
The recording itself allegedly features Turkey's intelligence chief, foreign minister, and deputy head of the armed forces discussing the possibility of military action in Syria. A video of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking in a helium-like voice at a rally today was also uploaded and heavily mocked online.
The YouTube move comes a day after Erdogan appeared to have succeeded in upholding a Twitter ban, which was implemented last week in the run-up to crucial municipal elections on Sunday.
Erdogan has repeatedly justified the ban by saying it allows the circulation of what he says are faked online tapes accusing him of corruption, and that the site threatens national security. The Turkish bar association lodged an appeal against the ban, which was subsequently upheld by an Ankara court.
Sources in Erdogan’s office told Reuters, however, that TIB could appeal the decision over a 30-day period, which means that Twitter could remain blocked throughout polling. The elections will mark the first test at the polls for Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) since last year’s mass protests and a corruption scandal that emerged in December.
The tapes being circulated — which appear to implicate Erdogan in corruption charges and have been released online by an anonymous source in recent weeks — have become the biggest threat to his rule since he came to power 11 years ago.
A board shows the alternative ways to access Twitter is placed at an election campaign office of the main opposition Republican's People's Party in Istanbul. Photo via Reuters.
Twitter itself mounted a separate court challenge, arguing that there were “no legal grounds for the blocking of our service in Turkey," and urged the government to restore access so that Turks could “continue an open online dialogue ahead of the elections.”
Turkey’s Twitter users quickly found ways around the ban, circulating lists of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and other workarounds on Facebook, Instagram, and other social networking sites.
According to social media analytics tech company Brandwatch, there has been an increase of 3,649 percent on all Twitter posts mentioning “Turkey” and “YouTube” since yesterday.
Tweets from Turkey that use those terms have increased by 5,483 percent in the same timeframe.
As a result, many activists feel that the ban is pointless while there are so many ways of circumventing it. Others worry, however, that access for the less politically dedicated has been lost. “Most people are using VPNs, but [things are different] now YouTube has been shut down. The ban has had an effect because the user numbers have decreased,” Yildiz Tar told VICE News. Tar is a journalist and editor with the leftist Etkin News Agency, which has been targeted by authorities in the past. “Now, we cannot reach most non-activists.”
The move also drew condemnation from the international community (including the US who compared the ban to book burning) and Erdogan’s opponents, who saw it as the latest in a series of increasingly authoritarian steps taken by the PM.
Such tactics may prove to be effective. The AKP, which dominates Turkish politics, is widely expected to comfortably win at the polls and is aiming for a repeat of the 40 percent of votes it netted in 2009.