Troll Wars on Social Media and the Case of Turkey


By Gönenç Ünaldı

10705348_10152643112367834_1368581112_nAs internet technologies are advancing and the need for alternative news sources is becoming more widespread, social media platforms have a more important place in our lives. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are helping us to communicate with each other in a very fast, valuable way. They are also alternate sources of information since mainstream media is not a reliable news source for many people.

The importance of social media was discovered by activists a long time ago. But governments and state authorities are also aware of the effectiveness of social media usage. While many Facebook and Twitter accounts are used by activists to spread political news and ideological propaganda, governments have realized that they can do the same thing by hiding their true identity. Many sources claim that almost all governments have social media teams that employ trolls. These trolls are actually hired staff of official authorities and are propagandizing in favor of that government under the disguise of normal, regular citizens. They are paid by the government and their job is to create a positive atmosphere for government businesses.

For example, an article of Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain in The Guardian says that the US military has created software and established 50,000 fake accounts on social media in order to propagandize in favor of US interests. Even though US authorities claim that they have no interference in facebook and twitter, it is hard to know if they have fake accounts on social media or not.

Another interesting example occurred in South Korea. According to The Korea Center for Investigative Journalism (NewsTapa), South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) created fake social media accounts and used them against opposition parties and anti-government political groups. Reports state that 658 twitter accounts were used by NIS and 237 thousand messages were sent via these accounts. More than 25% of these messages were related to internal politics and presidential elections. After this scandal was revealed to public, most of the fake accounts were deleted by NIS between December 2012 and March 2013.

Attack of Trolls in Turkey  

Almost all governments have their social media trolls, some interesting examples come from Turkey.

During the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in June 2013, anti-government groups used social media in the most efficient way.  AKP government and Prime Minister Erdoğan (now president) controlled almost all media sources but they were very weak in social media. After the wave of protests, AKP authorities decided to establish their own social media team. In November 2013, AKP announced that they would hire 6 thousand people and educate them in order to be used during the local elections process. But soon, it was revealed that this number was not enough for AKP government. AKP government’s “social media army” was first increased to 9 thousand, and then to 12 thousand people. Some of these people were spared to serve as trolls. AKP’s trolls have been very active on social media for about a year. They are known as “AK-trolls”.

Methods of AK-Trolls

AK-trolls work in a very efficient way. Some of them open fake accounts with non-Turkish names like Michael, George, Oliver, Smith etc. and act like foreigners. You can find these people in the comment sections of Western media sources. They propagandize in favor of AKP government and try to give the impression that even Westerners are on the side of Erdoğan. These trolls follow the agenda and whenever a foreign journalist writes about Turkey, they fill the comments of the articles with their propaganda.

Another method is to open fake accounts that spread identical slogans. These accounts are not used regularly, but when President Erdoğan says something, they spread slogans in favor of Erdoğan. They don’t write original content, they just copy & paste the same messages making it is very easy to detect these kinds of trolls.

The most efficient trolls are the ones who are always into political agenda and who write original messages by considering the political environment. These are the most valuable trolls and they work 24 hours a day just to protect the interests of the AKP government and President Erdoğan. Existence of these trolls was revealed in March 2013, when a phone conversation of Sümeyye Erdoğan (President Erdoğan’s daughter) was leaked on the internet. In this dialogue between Sümeyye Erdoğan and one of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s advisors she told him,

“tell our trolls to support our campaign. Also tell them to write funny things.”

After this conversation was leaked, the troll issue attracted much more attention in Turkey.

How to Manipulate People

AKP government’s trolls have a very wide range of activities. They sometimes target artists who are critical about Erdoğan’s politics. One of these artists is musician Erkan Oğur.

Erkan Oğur was supposed to give a concert in Sakarya on 5 July 2014. AK-trolls targeted Mr. Oğur because of his political orientation. First they opened a fake twitter account using Erkan Oğur’s name. Then they sent messages via the fake account which were critical about MIT (Turkish Intelligence Service). Then by using their other accounts, AK-trolls spread the fake messages.

Trolls then said that Oğur was a traitor and should not be allowed to give a concert in Sakarya. Finally, they sent dozens of messages to Sakarya Municipality asking authorities to cancel Erkan Oğur’s concert. Sakarya Municipality (which is an AKP municipality) took the twitter messages seriously and canceled Mr. Oğur’s concert. Vice-President of AKP, Abdulhamit Gül made a declaration and said that

“Artists, who insult our Prime Minister and values of our nation, cannot give concerts in cooperation with AKP municipalities. I am thankful to our mayor and our sensitive citizens.”

So, Mr. Oğur’s concert was canceled because of the attack of AK-trolls. Their trolling was so manipulative that Erkan Oğur was made to seem like a “traitor” and he was blamed for something he had never said.

We must admit that AK-trolls are very efficient on social media. Even though it is easy to detect them, since they always use the same rhetoric, these trolls are doing their best to prove themselves to AKP authorities. AKP was weak on social media only a year ago. But now they are the most organized political force on Facebook and Twitter in Turkey.

The Guardian
Hurriyet Daily News
Todays Zaman



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Jennifer Baker is the founder and editor of Revolution News - Contact us with inquiries, tips, corrections at -