Turkey, Twitter, Disinformation, Climate Change, Influence Operation

Turkey, Twitter

What the '#HelpTurkey' hashtag tells us about online disinformation

How an influence-peddling campaign used Twitter bots to hijack Turkey’s discussion on forest fires

8/3/2021 8:00:00 PM

How an influence-peddling campaign used Twitter bots to hijack Turkey ’s discussion on forest fires

It's said that lies travel faster than the truth, and as Turkey battled forest fires, Twitter became a hub of misinformation.

In particular, the hashtag "#HelpTurkey" garnered more than 2.5 million tweets on Twitter, which calls for outside intervention in the country in a bid to help combat the fires.While the campaign may have had many well-meaning users, it's likely part of an "influence operation", says Dr Marc Owen Jones designed to make the government "look weak and incompetent."

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Influence campaigns are the dissemination of propaganda in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent."I think while many people probably used the hashtag with good intention, it does appear that the trend itself ‘help turkey' is quite loaded," says Jones speaking to

TRT World.Jones, an Assistant Professor at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, trawled through thousands of tweets to identify how social media interactions shaped the debate around Turkey's forest fires.The online Twitter trend seems intent on emphasising "Turkey's incompetence and weakness in dealing with adversity," says Jones, adding that the "messaging and multiple infographics suggested some form of campaign too." headtopics.com

According to the government, in recent days, Turkey saw more thanacross 35 provinces, of which 122 have now been brought under control.The fires have resulted in at least eight deaths and as many as 271 others affected.Against this backdrop and with emotions running high, misinformation on Twitter "muddies the waters of legitimate debate and reduces complex issues to slogans and talking points," says Jones.

People the world over generally follow specific accounts on social media and news outlets that validate pre-existing political positions. In recent years, social media platforms like Twitter have only exacerbated the problem.One tactic used by fake accounts is "

handle switching", where users will change their Twitter handle after engaging in an active campaign to promote a trend. After they switch their handle and often delete their Tweets, the account operators erase their tracks.Recent research on Twitter trends in Turkey found that more than 47 percent of local trends in the country "are fake [and] created from scratch by bots," and more broadly 20 percent of global trends are fake.

Twitter trends often get more attention amongst normal app users. In addition, they are more likely to get people involved in the debate with international media outlets reporting on it, which only gives a manufactured trend greater credibility. Read more: TRT World »

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