Syrian refugees, political opposition and İstanbul Convention were the subjects of most disinformation, report says

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Topics that were the subjects of most disinformation on traditional and social media in Turkey were Syrian refugees, political opposition against the Turkish government and the İstanbul Convention, a Council of Europe treaty designed to prevent violence and domestic abuse against women, according to a report prepared as part of the Resilience Project.

According to the report, hate speech and disinformation were fueled by prejudice and stereotypes about others. Syrian refugees were targeted the most on social media, although Turkey hosts refugees from many other countries. The common perception towards Syrians was that they “lived in luxury in Turkey, while Turkish soldiers were dying in Syria,” said the report.

The report was based on research conducted between August and October 2020. “The resilience: civil society action to reaffirm media freedom and counter disinformation and hateful propaganda in the Western Balkans and Turkey” project is coordinated by the Southeast European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM), a network of media development organizations in Central and Southeast Europe.

The report said political opposition such as the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been portrayed as potential terrorists on social media, while other, more mainstream, parties such as the Republican People’s Party (CHP) were accused of “working with terrorists” during the times they built issue-based coalitions with the HDP.

The report did not include disinformation spread on Turkish media concerning the Gülen movement, which has been the subject of hate speech in recent years. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding.

Hate speech targeting members of the movement has been widely used by the Turkish government and the pro-government Turkish media. According to a 2017 report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, President Erdoğan himself developed a unique vocabulary of 240 hateful slurs and insults that singled out the Gülen movement, including a malignant tumor that poses a great threat to humanity, blood sucking leeches, viruses, hashashins and lunatics.

As a policy recommendation, the report said human rights associations urgently needed to develop a monitoring mechanism against hate speech and disinformation and that Twitter accounts and other online media outlets should be included in this monitoring.

It added that volunteer groups working against hate speech need to come together in solidarity and contribute to independent platforms that monitor media disinformation and disseminate their findings to the public.

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