Last week, a Turkish court ordered an access ban on a single post in the vast sea of more than 60 million individual blogs on WordPress. But for many users, that meant their Internet service providers blocked WordPress entirely.
A lawyer and Turkish Pirate Party member tracked down the root of the sudden ban on all of WordPress: a court order seeking to block a single blog post written by a professor accusing another professor of plagiarism. This post apparently led to several defamation lawsuits and the lawsuits led to a court order basically saying that if blocking the single post proved too difficult, fuck it, block the entire domain.
It is the second sentence in the order, however, that caused the complete ban of WordPress in the country. “If the access to the single page cannot be possible due to technical reasons,” it reads, “block access to wordpress.com.”
According to the Daily Dot’s Efe Kereme Sozeri, this tactic has often been deployed by Turkish government censors when outsmarted by the internet. If the targeted URL proves difficult to block, court orders demand ISPs block entire domains as Plan B.
This is Turkey’s inelegant “solution” to a problem it shouldn’t be trying to solve. Sozeri points out that its domain blocking efforts have, somewhat oddly, made oft-affected US tech companies much more responsive to its censorious demands.
The reason that Turkey had to request Google, Facebook, and Twitter to remove content is because they use SSL certificates, which secures users’ communication with their servers. (SSL certificates are what allow the implementation of HTTPS.) They’re technically quite difficult to intercept, but these companies still bow down to Turkey’s requests. Why? Because Erdoğan has completely banned access to their domains time and again when they failed to comply.
In order to continue doing business in Turkey, these companies have acquiesced to multiple censorship requests. Sozeri also has more bad news: Turkey’s ISPs are commonly blocking domains at the DNS level, providing for more complete censorship while bypassing the targeted entity’s participation in government censorship.
This incident also serves as an example of why targeted censorship so often fails. In most cases, those asking for content to be blocked are largely unconcerned about collateral damage — whether it’s rights holders trying to “protect” their intellectual property or governments seeking to control the content accessible to their citizens. And because they don’t care who else is harmed, they’ll push for the most “effective” form of censorship: deploying a nuclear weapon to kill a single person, to mix metaphors. And because the only good censorship target is a dead censorship target, they’re not above using everything from overly-broad blocking orders to man-in-the-middle attacks to achieve their aims.