Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political party was victorious in Turkey's closely watched municipal elections Sunday, but the prime minister's effort to squelch online criticism in the run-up to the vote probably wasn't much help. His government blocked Twitter and YouTube after embarrassing documents and recordings surfaced suggesting, among other things, corruption in Mr. Erdogan's inner circle. He has denied the allegations and said the tapes were fake. Then again, he has also threatened to shut down Facebook. "We will wipe out all of these," he said on the eve of the social-media crackdown.
Yeah, good luck with that. Within hours of the Twitter block on March 20, workarounds surfaced. The cat and mouse game began. Turkish Web users could use Google's Public DNS, or Domain Name Service, rather than Turkey's DNS to get back to tweeting. Protesters spread the word by spray-painting the workaround on buildings. Twitter also helped out blocked users in Turkey, releasing a workaround using SMS text messaging on cellphones.
In response, Turkey started blocking Google's DNS, the first country ever to do so. No problem. Savvy users set up virtual private networks, or VPNs, that masked their online activity. A popular service is Spice VPN, which touts a "Double VPN for Paranoid Anonymity."
Others downloaded the program Tor, which can run from a flash drive and enables what is known as "onion routing." It sends users' requests to several places on the Internet before returning the results censor-free, "so no observer at any single point can tell where the data came from or where it's going," as the Tor website explains. These "proxy servers" mask your true Internet address and location, allowing you to surf the Web unafraid of detection. The mice, as the Erdogan government discovered, are smarter than the cat.
But the game continues elsewhere. On March 3, Russian commandos cut power and communications lines of the Ukrainian Navy and stationed ships equipped with jamming technology off the coast of Crimea to sabotage wireless networks. Ukraine was ready. According to the computer-intelligence company Renesys, at least eight Internet exchanges (a point of connection to other Internet networks) and tens of thousands of miles of fiber-optic cables fortify Ukraine's Internet. Snipping a few lines or jamming a few wireless links won't take it down.
The message to autocrats is clear: You can't block communications, or at least not for long. Technology moves too fast. Iranian censorship, for instance, remains strong, but some two-thirds of households in Tehran have illegal satellite dishes despite a 1994 ban, as Iran's own Culture and Guidance Minister Ali Jannati told state news agency Irna in November.