Tor, the most popular anonymizing network on the Internet, gained over 10,000 new users this week in Turkey alone as protesters fought back against a government ban on Twitter.

The American social media network has been an important communications tool for millions of Turkish protesters fighting against what they see as the increasingly authoritarian administration of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“Everyone will see how powerful the state of the Republic of Turkey is,” Erdoğan said on Thursday as the government ban on Twitter began.


Screengrab: Tor metrics

Twitter’s role in Turkish unrest has been profound. Last year, protests were first organized and recorded on social media while state media ignored them. Dozens of Twitter users have been arrested in the country. During recent protest marches, Twitter helped record the events including the police response. The service has been used to extensively report on government corruption in the country.

Erdoğan has called Twitter “a menace” and “an extreme version of lying” in the past. That’s true in at least one way: Last year, the Turkish government hired thousands of young people to post propaganda on the social network.

Tor works by encrypting a user's Internet traffic and bouncing it around the globe to various nodes, making Internet use virtually untraceable and unblockable by authorities. The service has gained prominence in recent years as it has been famously used by activists, journalists, and criminals to hide sensitive Internet usage.

Users can download the Tor program at TorProject.org. If and when the Turkish government blocks that website, dozens of mirrors (digital copies) exist around the Internet that can keep the anonymity tool in the hands of protesters.

Many users are using this opportunity to encourage anyone who sympathizes with Turkish protesters or with Tor itself to donate bandwidth to the network by acting as a relay in the anonymity network.

The Turkish government’s aggressive action against freedom of speech show no sign of slowing, so it would be no surprise if the number of Tor users in the country keep rising as the administration’s grip on the Internet gets tighter.

Photo via William John Gauthier/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)