The European Commission (EC) has told repressive regimes that blocking access to web tools such as Twitter or YouTube to try and stop free speech and impose censorship is a futile gesture.
EC vice president for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes gave a speech in Istanbul, Turkey, in which she noted that the country’s efforts to block both Twitter and YouTube during protests against the government in March had backfired massively.
“A few months ago, the Turkish Government blocked access to Twitter and YouTube. Shutting down entire websites; silencing millions of voices,” she said on Tuesday. “That decision was disproportionate, illiberal and incompatible with human rights.
However, she noted that, even though the ban was eventually overturned, people in Turkey were easily able to get around it.
“According to some reports, in fact, Twitter traffic in Turkey increased directly after. The desire to communicate is human and universal; the technological options to enable it ever easier to find,” she said.
“And for those outside Turkey, the whole episode drew international attention. Most of the world only became aware of the issue after Twitter was blocked.”
Kroes added that it was clear nations trying to repress citizens through web blocking were doomed to fail, and that it was better to accept this now than try and fight it.
“It is clear that the internet makes it much harder to censor and repress,” she said. “Governments are increasingly powerless to prevent the free exchange of ideas. Maybe those governments need to take the hint, and stop swimming against the tide.”
Turkey did eventually relent on its block against Twitter in April, then its block on YouTube in May.