Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has created a government-controlled “troll army” to attack opponents in Turkey and abroad, main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Özgür Özel announced on Thursday in parliament.
There are some 8,000 members of the so-called AK-trolls, named so after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), according to documents and photographs the CHP group deputy chair released.
Emin Şen, chief advisor to Minister Soylu, is allegedly at the helm of the troll army and also gives training seminars to ministry employees. Several state bodies have also contracted firms owned by Şen, Özel said. Among the social media allegedly ran by Şen’s firms are the Twitter accounts of the Gendarmerie General Command and the police.
The AK-troll project was founded at a meeting of AKP leaders in Ankara in July 2013, two months after the start of Gezi Park protests where a small sit-in to preserve the namesake urban park from a development project snowballed into nationwide anti-government protests that eventually drew some four million citizens to the streets. Social media played a significant role in the months-long uprising as its main demographic was urban youth.
Özel shared messages from a private Telegram group chat showing a 25 core administrators directing the larger channel entitled the Ebabil Movement, named after a story in the Quran of a type of bird that protects the Muslim holy site of Kaaba. According to the messages, the core group discussed who to target and produced talking points and/or graphics to be used, and set the larger group on people like CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu or CHP’s Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu.
The ministry denied having Şen on the payroll as an adviser, and said their social media accounts were managed by press and public relations counselors. Özel in turn said the ministry had taken its website offline for a short while to edit out the incriminating information upon his exposé.
“They are spending money stolen from our people through taxes and inflation to feed an extensive troll network,” Kılıçdaroğlu had said in January 2022, citing a report prepared by his CHP.
“With influencer-trolls, astroturfers, bots and retweet rings, government-controlled trolls have a strong presence on Turkish-speaking Twitter. These networks of accounts work in concert to spread propaganda and misinformation,” said an EU report on Turkey’s troll networks in March 2022.