As Turkish citizens prepare to go to the polls, concerns are mounting over potential information outages on key election days.
In fact, President Erdoğan is not new to shutting down the internet in times of crisis. The most recent case comes in February, when the government blocked Twitter just when people needed it most – while they were dealing with the devastating aftermath of an earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria.
Experts are now advising citizens to use a trustworthy VPN service ahead of the election to face potential disruptions. So what is the probability that the internet in Turkey will stop working?
Turkey’s Internet Hug
“Türkiye so far has no history of shutting down the internet during elections. However, since 2015, there have been about 20 blackouts nationwide,” said Alp Toker, founder of Internet watchdog Netblocks, at a Twitter Spaces event on May 12.
“We know there is a kill switch that effectively allows authorities to shut down telecommunications networks.”
In addition to blocking Twitter in February, the government also restricted several social media platforms after an explosion in Istanbul left at least six people dead and more than 80 injured. The surge in VPN use in Turkey came as people tried to access apps and keep information flowing.
According to an internet shutdown tracker developed by VPN provider Surfshark in partnership with Netblocks, at least eight instances of internet disruption that occurred in Turkey in the past were related to political turmoil.
Since 2016, Turkey has imposed 20 internet blackouts and social media restrictions nationwide, though so far none have been in place during elections. Nevertheless, public concerns are heightened now – @netblocks director @atoker on #elections in Turkeyhttps://t.co/O12jNzBy1pMay 12, 2023
As Toker explained, there are two moments around political elections that are particularly at risk of losing information: when people go to the polls and when the results are counted.
This year’s Turkish presidential election is particularly significant for the country, with Erdoğan facing the most united opposition in years – The Financial Times reported..
Starting from May 14, they operate on a two-round system, so that the risk of Internet blackout is also extended for a longer period.
That’s why experts encourage citizens to download a reliable, secure VPN app before the big day.
“The workaround works. We just need to find a reliable solution,” said Toker.
How a VPN can help
Short for Virtual Private Networks, VPNs are security software that can spoof the location of a user’s IP address so they can appear if they are browsing the web from a completely different country within seconds. VPN services also encrypt all data leaving the device to help users enjoy more online privacy.
Born as a way to keep your personal information safe while surfing the web, its circumvention skills are the main reason why VPN use has skyrocketed globally in the last year.
“VPNs are starting to become your digital outage survival kit,” said Gabriele Dackaite, external communications specialist at Surfshark.
At the same time, as both online censorship and VPN use increase dramatically around the world, governments are increasingly cracking down on tech-bypassers — human rights defenders in – informed the House of Liberty.
“Turkey is among the countries around the world that have imposed restrictions on VPNs in the past,” Dackaite said, citing an incident in 2016 when Turkish ISPs were forced to block access to Tor Browser and some VPN providers.
Experts then suggest downloading different services so that users can jump between them in case of blockages.
We encourage people to check out our guide to the best free VPNs to make sure they are using reliable free apps.
In addition, Surfshark is committed to supporting journalists, NGOs and activists in Turkey and other countries where online freedom is under threat, so it appeals to anyone who needs it to get in touch.