Turkey: One fifth of trending hashtags fake, former Russian accounts reactivated as Turkish

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According to a research by a Turkish postdoctoral scholar, fake trending hashtags peaked in Turkey in 2021, and in the last two months of 2023 at least one fifth of the trending hashtags were fake.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle (DW) Turkish, Dr. Tugrulcan Elmas said that most of the manipulation campaigns in Twitter have been carried out through means of bot accounts in support of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and that the opposition’s main presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu was recently targeted in one of these campaigns at which a photo showing him stepping on a prayer rug with shoes on was posted.

Elmas told DW:

“The bot accounts can post within minutes, even seconds, as much as 200, 300, 500, even a thousand tweets, and these tweets contain the campaign’s slogan alongside randomly generated messages. The sole purpose is to make that slogan a trending hashtag. Once they’ve done this, they delete their tweets so they can no longer be spotted and one can no longer arrive at the conclusion that the trending hashtag is fake.”

Noting that this actually constitutes “a cyber attack against Twitter’s trend algorithm,” he said that the programmer who set the code for the algorithm did that without considering this possibility, that they informed Twitter about this in 2019 and 2020, and that they made a presentation on it at a cyber security conference in 2021.

He added that although Twitter acknowledged their warnings and expressed gratitude, it has stopped short of making any change in the algorithm so far.

Also recently, the general manager of political consultancy and research company Datailor told Middle East Eye that while numerous existing Turkish accounts have been reactivated before the elections, some of them are peculiarly “not Turkish” at all.

Ahmet Turan Han said:

“About 12,000 Russian- and Hungarian-speaking social media accounts were activated as Turkish and now follow all political parties and leaders (…) About 10,000 of them have been activated in the last two weeks.”

He added that 56% of these accounts in the past shared content in Russian, 28% of them in Hungarian and the remaining shared content in English.

“We estimate that the Hungarian accounts must have been used before the Hungarian elections last year,” he said.

Source: Gerçek News

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