As Turkey Bans Facebook And Twitter, Citizens Find Ways Around It

Turkish citizens turn to VPNs to skirt the social media blackout

Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Jun 29, 2016 at 5:49 PM ET

As Turkey yet again cut access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter after an attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that killed at least 41, users flocked to VPNs—virtual private networks—as a workaround.

It’s a common story in Turkey. The country has repeatedly instituted temporary national social media bans in recent years, prompted by reasons that range from terror attacks to purported evidence of government corruption. Each time, the country’s internet providers block direct access to domains like Facebook.com and twitter.com. So its residents have turned to VPNs, which routes a user’s traffic through a server located elsewhere around the world—circumventing that kind of blackout.

Social media censorship can be particularly damaging in times such as the Ataturk bombing. Medical groups in Turkey, for instance, turned to Twitter to ask the public for emergency blood donations.

Turkey’s need to access social media through was apparent the night of the attack, as users posted a combination of “Turkey” and “VPN” roughly 500 times in English and Turkish, often to state they were only online through such technology, to help others use it, or to sell VPN services.