June 12, 2020 / 1:55 PM / a month ago

Turkey slams 'propaganda machine' Twitter over removal of accounts

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey fiercely criticised Twitter on Friday for suspending more than 7,000 accounts that supported President Tayyip Erdogan, saying the company was smearing the government and trying to redesign Turkish politics.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin//File Photo

Twitter said it was taking down 7,340 accounts from a network detected early in 2020 that it said was being used to amplify political narratives favourable to Erdogan’s AK Party.

“(This) has demonstrated yet again that Twitter is no mere social media company, but a propaganda machine with certain political and ideological inclinations,” said presidency communications director Fahrettin Altun.

In a written statement, he added that allegations these were “fake” profiles designed to support the president and were managed by a central authority were untrue.

He also said documents cited to support Twitter’s decision were unscientific, biased and politically motivated, and that it was scandalous to cite a report by individuals “peddling their ideological views”.

Those remarks appeared to refer to a report by the Stanford Internet Observatory, with which Twitter shared its information, that said the network posted some 37 million tweets, promoting the AKP and criticising Turkey’s main opposition parties.

“We would like to remind the company (Twitter) of the eventual fate of a number of organisations which attempted to take similar steps in the past,” Altun said.

In the past, Turkey has blocked access to online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, YouTube and Twitter.

Yaman Akdeniz, cyber rights expert and professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, said the accounts removed by Twitter were only “the tip of the iceberg” of other questionable activity.

“This looks like a bot network that I think is not very active,” he said, suggesting further investigation was needed. “But it makes it official that bots are used in Turkey for political purposes.”

On Thursday, Twitter also said it removed more than 170,000 accounts tied to a Beijing-backed influence operation.

Reporting by Daren Butler and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Ece Toksabay, William Maclean, Andrew Cawthorne

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