Elections in Turkey: Will the internet survive the finals?

As the final battle for Turkey’s presidency draws closer, experts say Turks are on high alert over possible censorship and internet shutdowns.

Popular VPN service Proton VPN saw signups increase ahead of the first round of voting for the first time. The provider told TechRadar that daily usage of its Turkey VPN has continued to increase.

This climate certainly comes as no surprise given that current President Erdoğan is notorious for his tight control of the internet, particularly in times of political crisis. Here’s what’s at stake for the people of Turkey over the next few days.

Hoping for the best but expecting the worst

“The history of internet shutdowns in Turkey, coupled with recent social media restrictions, highlights the worrying trend of information suppression during political unrest. This raises concerns about the possibility of further internet restrictions as the upcoming election approaches,” says Surfshark spokeswoman Gabriele Racaityte. Krasauske told TechRadar.

According to Surfshark, Turkey is the fourth worst country in Asia and first in Western Asia in terms of internet restrictions. In fact, the country has counted about 20 nationwide mass censorship incidents since 2016, according to data collected by UK-based internet regulator NetBlocks.

Turkey’s social media website Eksi Sozluk was suspended on the eve of the first round of elections. Some accounts and content have also recently been removed from online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. DDoS attacks on independent media sites during election night and on the opposition platform for monitoring election results after vote counting have also raised concerns.

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Although the incidents have been relatively isolated so far, the research director of Netblocks Isik Mater, who is currently observing the elections in Istanbul, told TechRadar: “The Turkish people are hoping for the best but expecting the worst and are therefore preparing for possible disruptions , by looking for alternative channels of communication.” and ensuring they have access to reliable news sources.”

(Credit: Photo by Umit Turhan Coskun/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The stakes are even higher this time, as whoever wins the May 28 elections will rule the country for the next five years.

President Erdoğan, who has ruled the country for 20 years, can count on a solid alliance, strengthened by recent support for the third-place candidate. In the opposition is Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who is supported by six allied parties. After the first round on May 14, the candidates received 49.5% and 44.9%, respectively.

“The current climate across the country is quite grim. Regardless of who wins the election, they will inherit numerous challenges, including economic problems, humanitarian crises in earthquake zones and the refugee crisis,” Mater explains.

“People are eagerly awaiting the election results as they believe they will decide the fate of the country and access to information is an essential part of it.”

A surge in VPN usage in Turkey

A VPN, short for Virtual Private Network, is security software that is able to spoof the location of a user’s IP address, making it appear within seconds that they are from a completely different country in the world Surf Internet. VPN services also encrypt all data leaving a device to give users better online privacy.

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No wonder there was a huge spike in VPN downloads during election days. This time, however, the trend seems to have been a bit different than usual.

“Typically, in the hours after government censorship of social media, news sites, and other similar online resources, we see a spike in signups. The Turkish election was unusual in that we saw a significant increase in logins (44,000 daily logins at the peak) ahead of the first round of elections,” a Proton VPN spokesman told TechRadar.

“It would mean that the people of Turkey are preparing in case the government starts a censorship program. This also led to an increase in consumption, although we are not aware of any increase in censorship, and today we still see daily consumption in excess of pre-spike levels.

As we have seen, Turks are increasingly resorting to evasion tools in case the Turkish authorities decide to throttle social media access and internet connection in the crucial hours before Sunday evening.

Experts encourage people to download different services so that users can switch between them in case of blockages. We also recommend reading our guide to the best free VPNs to ensure you are using a safe and quality product. On the other hand, Surfshark and a few other providers are committed to supporting journalists, NGOs, and activists in Turkey and elsewhere where internet freedom is at risk, and are urging anyone in need to come forward.

Surfshark’s Racaityte said: “Possible internet restriction during the election could impede the dissemination of important information that could affect the outcome of the election and undermine the very essence of democratic elections.”

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