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Twitter removes thousands of Turkish-linked accounts targeting Kurds

June 12, 2020 at 2:51 pm

Twitter app is displayed on the screen of an Apple Iphone [World’s Direction/Flickr]

Twitter has announced that it has taken down 7,340 accounts linked to an information campaign led by the Turkish government which targeted Kurdish parties and sought support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

The Turkish campaign reportedly aimed to gather support for the AK Party while targeting Kurdish parties within both Turkey and Syria, particularly in relation to the Turkish army’s Operation Peace Spring into north-east Syria last October.

“Detected in early 2020, this network of accounts was employing coordinated inauthentic activity, which was primarily targeted at domestic audiences within Turkey,” explained Twitter. “Based on our analysis of the network’s technical indicators and account behaviours, the collection of fake and compromised accounts was being used to amplify political narratives favourable to the AK Party, and demonstrated strong support for President Erdogan. We’re disclosing 7,340 accounts to the archive today.”

According to the US-based Stanford Internet Observatory, with which Twitter shared its findings, the tweets from the fake accounts were highly critical of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party within Turkey, and “accused it of terrorism and social media ploys.”

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The Observatory explained in its report that since last October, “Tweets worked to increase domestic support for Turkish intervention in Syria.” This included “English-language tweets that attempted to increase the external legitimacy of Turkey’s offensive in north-eastern Syria in October 2019.” It added that the government also created and utilised certain hashtags in support of the operation, an example being #TurkeyFightsISISandYPG, which “appear to have originated with AKP politician accounts.”

The Turkish military operation, which was launched with the aim to clear Kurdish militias from the Turkey-Syria border while creating a 30km safe zone for around 2 million displaced Syrians, drew condemnation from many countries around the world and was often described as an invasion.

This online campaign linked to the Turkish government, therefore, was apparently an attempt to gain understanding and popular support for the operation while targeting the Kurdish militias such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and focusing on their links with the designated terror organisation the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) which operates within Turkey.

In recent years, numerous governments within the region have been found to have conducted online disinformation campaigns in efforts to influence public opinion and at times to influence elections. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have been at the forefront.

Last month, for example, Facebook announced that it dismantled a disinformation campaign by the Iranian authorities which used its state broadcaster to operate hundreds of fake social media accounts. Facebook has also been accused of having a seriously anti-Palestine stance due to being overrun by Israeli trolls who have gained influence over the social media giant.

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