Nicknamed Nancy, granddaughter emerges from her bedroom heading to our common, washroom. She calls my attention: “Babu” and asks: “What do you make it?” Normally, if she finds me already behind my desk, it is after 04:00AM, my wakeup time, when she has about one hour to waking up herself, ready for going to school. This time, however, it is just after 02:00AM, Tanzania time (GMT+3), May 29, 2023, a Monday.
Two things are disturbing my peace. My country’s Tanzania club side, had lost the CAF Champions League 2022/2023 soccer final on the home ground, leaving one fan dead and scores of injuries in a stampede; which is not the purpose of this analysis. Second, of all things in our ‘modern’ world, the Turkey Supreme Election Council (YSK) confirmed that the people, in a historic and crucial presidential runoff poll, had just decided to have another go at the Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s repressive, one-man regime, thus moving farther and farther away from democratic rule in the broader world sense. According to Anadolu Agency, Erdogan received 52.07% of the vote against Kilicdaroglu’s 47.93% after 99 percent of the ballot boxes were counted.
I was tracking Turkish and world response to this somehow brain-nagging, nerve-wrecking and lobe-sided, so-praised by strongman Erdogan and his allies as “the will of the nation”. Which sort of will this was? On which grounds or premise was it based? Just by coincidence, in the history of Turkey, May 29, 1453 (570 years ago) was the fall of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), which is not the subject of this analysis either.
In my search, I was more interested in news behind the curtain. Why should people choose pain? In particular, I wanted to find out what happened that the Turkish women, who constitute 49.7% of the registered voters according to YSK figures, could have given another five years in power to an incumbent president whose government was bent on jailing mothers along with their breast-feeding babies and accompanied by under-ten children.
Did they give in? What made them feel comfortable with extending the rule of the regime that resorts to strip searches as one of the governance tools? How? Were their votes ‘recycled’, rigged? Did they decide or were they led to decide not to turn out in bigger numbers for the runoff? What happened? Why? Was there a planned process for the desired end? Nearly 85% turnout marked the runoff, slightly lower than the 88% registered in the first round on May 14 and lower than in previous elections.
Call me biased, if it so pleases you. But what would your judgment be in the event of witnessing someone walking into the bathroom and choosing charcoal instead of soap for super body cleanliness? This could only take place in a typical case of ‘washing of the brain’. Isn’t it? In other words, quoting from some lines of the scriptures, how was the Turkey electorate so brain washed that less turned up for the most vital exercise and chose a snake for fish on the table?
During the May 14 first presidential and parliamentary polls, social media was abuzz with allegations of under-reported tallies, falsely registered results and claims against the Supreme Election Council (YSK) database votes being stuffed to AKP’s coalition party. In the prevailing circumstances, what else could anyone expect to happen? It had happened in earlier polls. This was just a continuation.
But the question is: “Was this all that there was for the Turkish people, symbolically at the risk of drowning in the Erdogan-AKP Sea (literally with water already neck-deep), to snub a life-jacket offer in the form of May 14, 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections and a presidential rerun a week later? What else did they need to survive the tragedy?
It is here that my mind clicked live the gist of the address of US Special former envoy to Yugoslavia, Richard Holbrooke, speaking at ‘Between Past and Future’, at the Central European University in Budapest. According to him, if there had been no media, there could have been no war. But even more important could be his observation that “what is reported (and) what isn’t, matters profoundly… (Slobodan) Milosevic’s decision to take the course he chose … made the bombing inevitable and unavoidable… In effect, he (had) pulled a trigger on himself. This process was profoundly, centrally affected on a day by day basis by the coverage in the press. I want to stress how central their role has been.”
The words Richard Holbrooke which were carried in the May/June issue of the Index in 1998 touch on the present troll factory or farm concept and practice, better explained in the EU language. This represents an organization that engages in online deception and propaganda. The practice is often disguised by an inconspicuous name, a PR firm or an internet research centre and the like.
As a rule, troll factories or farms focus their activities on the political or economic sphere. The goal of their operation may be to attack political opponents, unfairly attack a competitor or perform some other action specified by clients. Troll factories achieve their goals with fake news and hate speech, among other things.
Troll factory employees create false identities and make up in their social media presence. It is necessary to make it appear that the account created is real, therefore, not only things related to the troll factory’s goal are posted here, but also materials that give credibility to a fictitious profile, such as information about private life. The profiles contain photos from pre-existing accounts; attend to fool internet search engines. Since the troll factory employs hundreds of people and each employee has multiple accounts, it is easy to build a social network that links fake profiles together and gives the appearance of a real network. The longer the accounts are kept, the easier it is to create an illusion of reality. The employers of troll factories often work in shifts 24 hours a day.
The activities are facilitated by bots, which are computer programs that automatically send messages, for example, in response to the appearance of a phrase. However, while the messages sent are unreachable and can easily be classified as spam language problems, duplication of statements, the content transmitted by bots can appear more credible, making disinformation efforts more effective through coordinated efforts.
It is from this EU dossier that one can understand what a statement by Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu accused Russia of fabricating videos merely three days to the polls was all about. He pointed fingers at Russia for meddling in the race through circulating conspiracies and fabricated sex on the web, implicating former presidential candidate Muharrem Ince, forcing him to withdraw from the race. Ince said he was the target of a character assassination plot through a series of smear campaigns, including the release of the sex video, which he said was fabricated from an “Israeli porn site.”
Russia has been accused of meddling in the US presidential election in 2016 and in the French presidential election in 2017. What is difficult about Putin repeating the game to save his near-umbilical ally Erdogan from losing grips on Turkey? Putin and Erdogan are like co-joined geopolitics and economy twins. Just consider their role in during the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, NATO and ally circles, the European Union, Syria, Libya, the Middle East and North Africa region as a whole and the Ukraine war in which Erdogan supplies the drones to Kiev and facilitates peace negotiations with Moscow.
Again deriving from the parameters of the EU dossier on trolls, one can read between the lines on the role of misinformation and disinformation social media screens in Turkey and their impact on the just ended polls. There were complaints about Twitter closing some accounts identified through a court order. Fine. But was that all? No. After the presidential runoff, Twitter account holders found it difficult to connect. Could these, possibly genuine customers, been victims of being connected with troll factory false identities which have no purpose any more since Erdogan is now confirmed as the president?
Can this explain why the Turkey’s Presidential Communications Directorate spent nearly TL 283 million ($14.3 million) in April alone, corresponding to 43.7 percent of its total expenditure during the first quarter of 2023, on sending messages? To whom and through which networks? Was it through fake ones which have to be closed after the mission has been accomplished?
If there was not media, could it be true that the people of Turkey could have voted Erdogan out of power? The question now arising from the polls results is: “Towards 2028 what? Couldn’t there be another referendum to the contrary in the pipeline? Could Erdogan this time around feel five years more is long enoug? In Africa we say bad meat tends to stay longer on the barbecue stick. Or is it as a rather distasteful, derogatory and crude Chinese proverb says? That, “if the king does not want to relinquish the throne, (pardon me) he must have s.it.”
All said, doesn’t the future of Turkey now rest in the Will of Allah? And, therefore, could prayers, the likes of “May God save Turkey and bless its people” suffice rather than wait for 2028? Did the Turkish people vote for pain, really?