Turkish graffiti says "let your bird sing" next to Google's DNS servers’ IP addresses, used to circumvent the government's Twitter ban. Image via @FindikKahve/Twitter.
There is an informal rule that the more one attempts to hide, remove, or censor information on the Internet, the more widely publicized that information becomes. We’ve seen this in a number of cases. Some have been serious, like the 2009 attempt by a multinational oil company to suppress The Guardian’s reporting of a toxic waste dump scandal, which resulted in the corporation’s name trending negatively on Twitter. Others have been humorous, such as the 2003 case of Barbara Streisand attempting to suppress photos of her mansion in Malibu, California, from a series of stock photographs of the Malibu coastline, which resulted in half a million additional visits to the website hosting the stock photos. This last incident is where the rule gets its name: the Streisand Effect.
The efforts by the Turkish government to shut down citizens’ access to Twitter offer a telling example of the national security implications of the Streisand Effect. On March 20th, the administration of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan banned the use of Twitter in the country. A week later, it banned YouTube too. This comes in the lead up to local and presidential elections taking place this year and amid a series of wiretap leaks that allegedly show corruption at the heart of the Erdoğan administration.
Erdoğan has claimed that social media outlets are enabling shadowy actors to spread false information without fear of repercussions. In the case of Twitter, the prime minister went so far as to say that he would “eradicate” the site from the country.
In actuality, Turks use of the social media service rose after the prime minister’s announcement about Twitter—by 138 percent. One analytics group counted 1.2 million tweets in the 24-hour period following the ban.