A senior member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has claimed that Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has an 8,000-strong army of internet trolls led by one of the ministry’s undersecretaries, Turkish Minute reported.
CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Özgür Özel on Thursday held a press conference at parliament to expose facts about Soylu and said he has used a troll army since he became interior minister in 2016.
Özel said the cyber army the minister used mainly to spread disinformation on social media and target prominent social and political figures who criticized him or didn’t embrace the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s ideals and practices was being led by his undersecretary, Emin Şen.
Appointed to the post in October 2016, two months after Soylu became minister, Şen traveled around Turkey and taught people how to work as internet trolls for Soylu, Özel said, adding that he owns two companies, Native Technology and SM360 Agency, although he, like all civil servants, is subject to the prohibitions of establishing a company and being a company manager.
Showing screenshots of the messages sent on the Telegram encrypted messaging app, Özel claimed that Şen controlled an army of some 8,000 trolls through his companies that provide “social media management” services.
The lawmaker further said Şen also manages the social media accounts of Turkey’s Security Directorate General and the Gendarmerie General Command and uses them as “shields” to protect Soylu when he draws criticism from opposition figures.
According to Turkish media reports, the Interior Ministry said in a note sent to journalists that Şen was neither a civil servant nor did he hold the position of the minister’s adviser, as claimed by Özel.
However, it was revealed that a post shared on Facebook by the Aydın Governor’s Office in 2020 which included a photo of Şen also described him as an undersecretary to the interior minister, according to local media.
Şen, who has a page on the ministry’s website, was also referred to as an undersecretary to a minister. But his title was changed from “undersecretary” to “advisor” during Özel’s press conference, Turkish media reports said.
Soylu mobilized the troll army in April 2020 after he announced his resignation in the wake of growing criticism over his ministry’s declaration of a 48-hour curfew due to the COVID-19 pandemic, two hours before it went into effect, prompting tens of thousands of Turks to start panic buying. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan then declined to accept the minister’s resignation.