Kılıçdaroğlu says gov't is using online election manipulation tools

The opposition bloc Nation Alliance’s presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has warned about a "Cambridge Analytica" type of manipulation in the upcoming presidential elections by the government. Cambridge Analytica is a shut-down consultancy firm that had supported Donald Trump’s victorious presidential campaign in 2016 through online voter profiling and targeting.

This collage photo shows Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (L) and Fahrettin Altun (R).

Duvar English

The main opposition bloc Nation Alliance’s presidential candidate and Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on May 2 warned of "dirty deeds to be committed" for the upcoming elections and said that Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun was "playing Cambridge Analytica." 

The company Cambridge Analytica had made the headlines in 2018 after it came out to light that it had used Facebook users’ social media data in the 2016 presidential campaign of former U.S. president Donald Trump. 

With these remarks, Kılıçdaroğlıu meant that the Turkish government might similarly manipulate public opinion through disinformation and propaganda campaigns using social media. 

Kılıçdaroğlu said Altun and some other executives in the Communications Directorate were trying to make a "deal" on the dark web, a virtual network that is difficult to trace. 

In his Twitter post, Kılıçdaroğlu said, "This is my last warning" and added, "Fahrettin Altun, Serhat, and his teammates Çağatay and Evren, the dark web world you are trying to deal with will put you in the hands of foreign intelligence. Playing Cambridge Analytica is beyond your capacity."

Responding to Kılıçdaroğlu, Altun denied the accusations and said, "The fact that Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu is uncomfortable with our Communications Directorate, which has made the fight against disinformation a priority, is an indication that we are on the right track."

Altun said the other names in Kılıçdaroğlu's post were deputy presidents and the head of the IT department at the Communications Directorate.

On April 27, Kılıçdaroğlu published a video titled "Dirty deeds" on his social media account. He said the opposition is facing large-scale and well-funded slander campaigns and efforts to obstruct the opposition. 

According to BBC Turkish, the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted in 2018 with the revelation that the data of 50 million Facebook users had been misused. The company was operating as a data analytics company providing services to business and political parties "seeking to change consumer, follower and voter behavior." 

The experts argued that the company has moved away from the difficult short-term goal of changing people's voting preferences to the relatively easy goal of ensuring that hesitant voters do not go to the polls. 

The company was thought to have influenced voter behavior during the election of Donald Trump as president in the United States and the United Kingdom’s Brexit process.

Facebook founder and chairman Mark Zuckerberg testified before the U.S. Congress and apologized for the unauthorized sharing of user information. Cambridge Analytica was also shut down in 2018. 

According to the Supreme Board of Elections (YSK), approximately five million people will vote for the first time on May 14. Turkish politicians have been shifting their election campaigns from the street to social media, rallies are being replaced by videos and written messages that aim to get closer to or entertain the younger generations. 

Nonetheless, there is a gap in studies regarding the possible usage of online manipulation methods and how they might affect the voters’ preferences in the upcoming elections in Turkey. Since less than two weeks are left to one of the most important elections of Turkey's history, "undecided" voters continue to keep their importance for politics.