Turkey's disinformation election: Fake videos and wildly misleading claims

Turkey's presidential elections are heading toward a second-round runoff end of May
Turkey's presidential elections are heading toward a second-round runoff end of May Copyright Emrah Gurel/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Emrah Gurel/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Sophia Khatsenkova with AFP
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The presidential and parliamentary election campaigns have not been immune from disinformation narratives.


Turkey is set for a second round of voting after neither President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan nor his main rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was able to secure a majority in Sunday's presidential election. 

With no candidate having received more than 50% of the votes, the country is set for a runoff for the first time ever.

So far, the election campaign has been marred by disinformation on both sides. The Cube took a look at some of the most viral claims during the first round. 

Was Kılıçdaroğlu supported by a terrorist organisation?

One of the most viral videos claimed  to show Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu telling viewers: "Let's go to the ballot box together."

Later in the clip, Murat Karayilan, one of the founders of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) – classified as a terrorist entity in Turkey, the European Union and the United States – appears in the campaign video expressing his support.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even shared this clip at a rally, asking the crowd whether they would vote for a candidate supported by a terrorist organisation. 

But as multiple fact-checking sites as well as the tweet above have shown, the video is a montage. It's two separate and unrelated videos edited into one. 

Did Erdoğan give out money to children at a polling station?

Did Erdoğan try to bribe his voters? That's the question certain social media users are asking after a video posted on Twitter shows the incumbent distributing banknotes to children at a polling station.

According to the fact-checking site Liberation, the video was filmed on 14 May during the election. However, the French newspaper explains many users highlighted the 'cultural' aspect of this practice. 

Ragip Soylu, Turkish bureau chief for Middle East Eye, explained on Twitter: “This is a cultural thing. The elderly usually gives what we call “pocket money” to children. It is usually happens in religious festivities. But Erdogan has been doing it wherever he goes," he said. 

Did Erdoğan gather an unprecedented crowd of 1.7 million supporters in Istanbul?

Pro-Erdoğan groups posted in multiple languages about the President's successful rallies -- claiming 1.7 million supporters came out to a rally in Istanbul before the first round of the election.

However, multiple fact-checking sites debunked these claims. BPT -- a Turkish media tweeted that the gathering place at the Ataturk airport was "55,000 m2, which can accommodate a maximum of 277,000 people."

Teyit, another Turkish fact-checking website also investigated the claim. They estimated that the number of people present could reach a maximum of 690,000. That is still more than a million less than what the AK party claimed.  

Russian foreign hackers accused of spreading fake news

Kılıçdaroğlu blamed “Russian foreign hackers” recruited by Erdoğan’s team. He tweeted: "Dear Russian Friends, you are behind the montages, conspiracies, Deep Fake content [...] If you want the continuation of our friendship after May 15, get your hands off the Turkish state," he warned. 

Erdoğan responded similarly, alleging that “an army of trolls" was working for his rival.

“You are using lies and misinformation. You are devising schemes that even the devil would not have thought of,” Erdoğan told the opposition leader on television.

What impact has fake news had on the first round?

Experts are unsure if these sorts of disinformation tactics swayed the election but they did have an impact on Turkish society according to Suay Boulougouris, Program Officer for the NGO Article 19.

"It's necessary to say that the opposition coalition was targeted more than the government coalition was," she told Euronews.


"I think all this primary targets of this political formation are typically voters who are uncertain or can be swayed by spreading this kind of misleading or false information. The intention is to influence their opinions and watching decisions. We cannot say whether this was definitive in the election results, but it's definitely had a serious impact on the polarisation within society," she said. 

The second round of voting in the presidential election, considered one of the most important in decades, is scheduled for the 28 May.

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