Last week President Erdoğan announced “Operation Truth” to combat “fake news”.
This came after news that the Turkish government would allow students from Qatar to study medicine in Turkey without taking an exam, which sparked a huge reaction.
Every Turkish student is obliged to take university exams to enter private and state universities, medicine being the highest of scores. The regime announced that the Qatari exchange program was only applicable to military students, accusing the opposition of spreading false news.
Yet it is more likely that the President’s latest take on false news has more to it than misinformation regarding a student exchange programme. His aim is to deliver the AKP’s truth, rather than fighting fake news. The AKP is very active on social media. In fact, it has its own digital army.
Last year, Twitter banned more than 7,000 accounts, which mostly consisted of AK troll accounts according to Prof. Yaman Akdeniz.
The government-owned and controlled media is a master of fake news but their accountability is questioned.
Meanwhile, the regime is silencing and attacking independent journalists. AFP photo reporter Bülent Kılıç was brutally beaten by the police during Istanbul’s Pride gathering, where dozens of protesters - even bystanders -had to empty all the streets of Beyoğlu, Taksim. Press organizations gathered up last week at the Istanbul Governor’s Office and issued a statement condemning the brutal force exerted on journalists and press freedom in general.
President Erdoğan is aware that he is losing support. His popularity is falling rapidly amongst younger voters. The videos and tweets of mafia leader Sedat Peker are getting enormous attention. According to a recent poll by Yöneylem, Erdoğan lost 4 points in June.
Peker’s power trumps that of any other oppositional voice: He was once part of the AKP, even organizing elections campaigns. Now a fugitive, he is targeting Interior Minister Soylu, disgracing the AKP. And nobody so far was able to debunk his accusations.
The AKP seems to be frustrated as there is no power to combat Peker, unless he is silenced for good. The President’s popular and fierce speeches trigger a backlash, when he claims for instance that people have to pay for COVID-19 vaccinations in the West, boasting about Turkey’s health care system.
President Erdoğan needs to get more support, especially from young voters. This is why he is introducing a new operation led by the Promotion Directorate to tell “Erdoğan’s truth” in the field, throughout Anatolia. New films and TV series with enormous budgets are also a tool to keep youngsters focused on nationalism, piousness and neo Ottomanism.
It seems that the President will spend more on information wars. But will it help to build up the necessary 50% he needs to burnish the image of a corrupted state?