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Turkey blocks WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook to crush criticism as it attacks Northern Syria

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Turkey is currently waging a war abroad – it’s a controversial operation referred to in the media as the Syrian offensive. As is often, if not always the case with wars, the Turkish authorities seem to think that the less information about the progress of the operation gets out and gets exchanged – the better.

And Turkey certainly isn’t known for shying away from online censorship and internet blackouts, even when dealing with lesser crises. This one is promising to be particularly harmful to the country’s image abroad, as media reports are focusing heavily on grisly imagery from the offensive that is affecting civilians.

Thus on Friday morning, access to major social media platforms was blocked in the southern areas of the country bordering Syria.

According to NetBlocks, an internet observatory, the block is being imposed by Turkey’s TTNet ISP and affects Twitter, as well as WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook itself. The non-profit bases its claims on reports from local users, who are bypassing the bans with VPNs, while the Turkish authorities are yet to confirm it.

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NetBlocks views this apparent pin-pointed blockade of certain sites in certain parts of the country – as proof of an advance in technical capability which facilitates geographically constrained network filtering.

Some unverified reports said in the meanwhile that the blocking of major social media sites is happening elsewhere in the country, too.

If these reports are true, then Turkey would be basing the legality of the move on a 2016 law known as the “internet killswitch” that allows for such action with national security as the explanation and/or excuse.

In parallel with suppressing big social media platforms in the country, Turkey is using them to build a case for its invasion elsewhere in the world. This effort is referred to as a multi-language astroturfing campaign for public opinion that promotes Ankara’s point of view, and is apparently disseminated using networks of bot accounts.

It seems evident that the internet is today understood by governments as both a major threat and a major asset, while social media platforms and messaging services have become a full-fledged “companion tool” of any war – hot and cold alike.

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