Even Turkey's President Evades Its New Twitter Ban

A Turkish court is trying to ban Twitter, setting off condemnation of the government's increasingly heavy hand and prompting Turks to find a workaround for the social media site.

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The cyberworld is aflutter about Twitter - more precisely, an effort by Turkey to ban the microblogging site. After a court order, Turkey's telecommunications authority tried to block Twitter access. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to eradicate Twitter. But the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, is one of many Turks who are working around the blockage and tweeting away. Joining us from Istanbul is NPR's Peter Kenyon. And, Peter, to start, do you have a Twitter account and are you able to access it?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, I do have a Twitter account. And while Justin Bieber might not be impressed by my eight followers, let me say they're all very high quality people. And I have been able to access Twitter with very little extra effort. Turkey's been blocking Kurdish and other politically sensitive websites for years, so many Turks have learned how to evade the censors. And Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's effort to block Twitter has been largely ineffective.

CORNISH: Well, censorship is nothing new in Turkey. I mean, in the past, YouTube has been banned. Why is Erdogan so upset with Twitter now?

KENYON: Well, he railed quite strongly against it with the Turkish equivalent of Twitter schmitter, saying he planned to uproot the site. Twitter would realize the strength of the Turkish republic. This gets cheers from his conservative base but provokes mainly scorn and comedy elsewhere. The claim is that Twitter has posted false defamatory information, including some recordings that are part of a politically explosive corruption investigation that's seen three cabinet ministers resign already and rattled the ruling party.

Analysts say with local elections coming up March 30th, government supporters are afraid more leaks could be coming and that's why the government is going after Twitter.

CORNISH: Now, as we mentioned, those who really want to use Twitter in Turkey seem to be having no trouble, including Erdogan's political ally, Turkish President Abdullah Gul. Now, what did he have to say?

KENYON: Well, Gul took to his Twitter account today to say he hopes the ban doesn't last, that it's technically impossible to shut these things down, and that if there are individuals misusing the site, then you should go after them and not blanket the entire service. A cabinet minister says if Twitter agrees to shut down individual accounts, then the ban might be lifted.

But many Turks here were most surprised, I have to say, by this latest hint of a split between Gul and Erdogan, probably the two most powerful politicians in Turkey right now. After these local elections come a presidential contest in a few months, and if there really is a split between these two men, Turkey's political landscape could be in for quite a shakeup.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thanks so much, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome, Audie.

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