You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Turkey's Ruling Party Training Social Media Reps to Counter Opposition's Online Presence

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, September 17 2013

They say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and it appears that the Turkish government is taking that advice to heart. The ruling Justice and Development Party (or AKP) is training 6,000 social media representatives to counter the strong online presence of the opposition and those who participated in the Gezi protests in June.

The AKP is recruiting younger and tech-savvier party members and sending them to Ankara to learn how to be “positive” online messengers. Social media representatives will then be dispersed throughout the country, with 1,000 in Istanbul where the Gezi Protest took place, 600 in Ankara and 400 in Izmir, and the rest in smaller cities.

"We aim at developing a positive political language which we are teaching to our volunteers," said a senior party official responsible for the campaign, according to the Wall Street Journal. "And when the opposing camp spreads disinformation about the party, we correct them with valid information, always using positive language."

This stands in stark contrast to the party line earlier this year, when the AKP leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said, “There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”

Twitter was an invaluable reporting and organizing tool during the June protests, far outstripping the Turkish media's coverage of the protest, which amounted to very little.

Erdogan has since changed his mind. The Wall Street Journal reported that last week that Erdogan now says Twitter could be used by youths to “speak truth.”

With their new social media team, Turkey joins countries like China in trying to influence the conversation online. China has between 250,000 and 300,000 so-called “50 cent party members” posting pro-government comments on Internet forums.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.