The attempted military coup in Turkey exploded across social media late on Friday despite restricted access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube during the first hours of the putsch.
Immediately after the coup attempt began, two groups that monitor internet shutdowns reported that it was difficult or impossible to access social media services. Twitter said it suspected an “intentional slowing” of its traffic.
YouTube said it was aware of reports that its site was down in Turkey although it was not experiencing any apparent technical difficulties, indicating that an order to restrict access came from within Turkey.
But later in the evening it appeared that service had been restored.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, an avowed enemy of social media who has frequently made Twitter and Facebook a target, addressed the country via a FaceTime video call that was shown on TV.
He also tweeted: “I call our nation to the airports and the squares to take ownership of our democracy and our national will” and retweeted posts from the prime minister and the official presidency account condemning the coup.
At the same time, both supporters and opponents of the coup inundated social networks with commentary and images, many of them live videos.
Military forces at Ataturk international airport in Istanbul https://t.co/pUJCXxHqYs— Abhimanyu Kulkarni (@SansaniPatrakar) July 15, 2016
A map showing all Facebook Live videos showed dozens of live streams coming out of Turkey, including videos of hundreds of people gathered out on the streets. On Twitter, users shared images and videos of scenes in Istanbul and Ankara, with gunshots heard in the background of some videos.
Smoke rising from Turkish Parliament pic.twitter.com/tWRv0ABheT— Gilgo (@agirecudi) July 16, 2016
Turkey’s military said on Friday it had seized power, but the prime minister said the attempted coup would be put down.
During the initial phases of the coup attempt, it was difficult or impossible to access social media for many users except by using a “virtual private network” to bypass local internet providers, local residents and monitoring groups said.
Hotspot Shield, an app that allows users to connect to virtual private networks, said it saw a more than 300 percent increase in new downloads in Turkey within two hours of the coup becoming public knowledge.
The Turkish government under Erdogan has repeatedly moved to block social media in periods of crisis and political uncertainty. It was not immediately clear whether the government or another actor ordered blockages late on Friday.
Data from CloudFlare, which provides internet traffic and security services to websites, showed a 50 percent drop in internet traffic coming out of Turkey, the company’s chief executive, Matthew Prince, said on Twitter.
Turkey has throttled social media at least three times this year, said Access Now, a digital rights advocacy group.
“People in Turkey will need access to information and, if there is violence, access to emergency services - all of which depend on stable communications channels,” Access Now said in a statement.