On Friday, Russia blocked access to Twitter, engaging in the censorship that the free internet was intended to prevent. But just days later, Twitter announced its new onion service — an anonymous browsing tool that allows internet users to bypass government censorship. Twitter’s ordinary website has long been available via Tor, but the new onion address allows for better protection. The onion service is now on Twitter’s “supported browsers” page.
The address is https://twitter3e4tixl4xyajtrzo62zg5vztmjuricljdp2c5kshju4avyoid.onion. To access it, you’ll first have to download Tor Browser.
“This is possibly the most important and long-awaited tweet that I’ve ever composed,” tweeted cybersecurity expert Alec Muffett, who has assisted sites like Facebook in creating onion services. “On behalf of Twitter, I am delighted to announce their new Tor Project onion service.”
Onions and browsers and Tor, oh my! — Tor, which stands for “the onion router,” is free and open-source software developed in the ‘90s to allow anonymous connection to the internet. Cocooned inside layers of encryption (think layers of an onion), you’re safe to browse the web without revealing your location to websites or state tracking services.
Like a VPN, Tor routes your internet connection through a different server — but unlike a VPN, Tor keeps relaying several times before you reach the public internet. Though governments can block access to the Tor network, users can use a bridge, an additional relay capable of hiding that someone is using Tor, effectively circumventing the censorship.
The bright side of the dark web — Tor browser is used for all sorts of illicit trade — counterfeit currency, child porn, illegal drugs, and all sorts of horrible, no good, very bad things — but it’s also the home of wholesome, mundane, and vital content. The FBI acknowledged Tor’s “known legitimate uses” in its takedown of the notorious Silk Road online marketplace. It’s not all men for hire or scammy shrooms sellers; it can be a lifeline for people living under intense internet surveillance or censorship.
How do you solve a problem like Roskomnadzor? — Russia’s new draconian “fake news” law, which passed on Friday, threatens journalists with up to 15 years for publishing information that conflicts with the Kremlin’s narrative (words like “war” and “invasion” are restricted). Twitter provides Russian citizens with on-the-ground reporting from sources that may be restricted; it’s vital for this reason alone.
NPR reports that demand for VPNs in Russia was 668 percent higher on Mar 3 than it was in the week prior to the invasion, according to privacy monitoring service Top10VPN. Twitter joins an extensive list of services available through the Tor anonymity network that includes BBC News, The New York Times, Pornhub, and Facebook.