Internet companies reported services being throttled back in Turkey amidst an attempted coup on Friday, but staggering connection speeds didn’t stop citizens from broadcasting first-hand accounts while the insurgency unfolded.
Analysts said platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were difficult to access Friday evening as the Turkish military began an insurrection that has since proved to be unsuccessful.
Turkey Blocks, a group that monitors the country’s frequent shutdowns, and Dyn, an international internet performance monitoring company, both said that access to social media services was disrupted inside Turkey late Friday.
The CEO of Cloudflare, a U.S.-based online security company, said he saw around a 50 percent drop in internet traffic coming out of the country as the uprising began.
But for Turkey — a country that has repeatedly been condemned in the past for intentionally censoring and suspending online access — the military’s failure to fully severe connections to the internet is being credited with helping cause the coup to come up short.
Unlike previous instances where the Turkish government blocked access to entire websites, citizens on Friday could still use social media, albeit slowly, to communicate within and beyond the country’s borders, in turn making it difficult for the military uprising to control its anti-government narrative.
TurkeyBlocks said data from Friday suggests access to social media services was throttled for around two hours, but saw “no evidence of a full internet blackout.”
On its part, Twitter said it had no reason to believe it had been fully blocked in Turkey, but instead had suspected its traffic was intentionally being slowed down.
“It wasn’t like an outright block, like they’ve done in the past,” Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Dyn, told the New York Times.
“They’re slowing down the traffic, not to zero, but enough that people can’t use it, and the end result is that they’re blocking access to it,” he told Vice.com’s Motherboard website. “If they’re actually doing something like analyzing the traffic to see if people are accessing Facebook, it’s a more sophisticated approach and they can be more effective in preventing people from getting around it.”
As indicated by Facebook’s chief security officer, however, the approach failed to be fully successful. Facebook CSO Alex Stamos shared a screenshot Friday evening suggesting at least dozens of users were broadcasting live video from cities across Turkey, while others used competing platform Periscope to air the attempted coup in realtime.
Throttling internet access and not severing it entirely may have caused the military to come up short, suggested Grugq, a Bangkok-based security researcher who authored a blog post on the topic early Saturday.
“The failure to block the internet meant that the coup was battling a leadership that still had a very powerful capability: cyberpower,” he wrote. “The ability to push out information that allowed them to coordinate a defense. In addition, both Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live allowed civilians to share their experiences, disseminate information, and build moral support for direct action.”
“It is an intelligence service axiom that intelligence is of no value if not disseminated. Facebook Live, Twitter, and Periscope, provide a means of real time raw intelligence collection and dissemination. The civilian population is able to stay informed and make individual decisions, that collectively, can alter the course of events.”
• Andrew Blake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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