The official announcement of early elections on April 18th was followed by one of the most intensive campaigning periods in Turkey’s recent history. Although campaigning only spanned two months, social media platforms were abuzz with false contents the entire time.
During two months, teyit.org received a record-breaking number of suspicious information from our readers. This report is based on the 29 unique news content that were investigated and debunked by teyit.org editors. By shedding light on the actors and platforms behind the spread of false contents, we believe this work makes an important contribution to our understanding of the phenomenon, especially during the elections.
In compliance with our methodology, the false contents we detailed in this article have been disproved by at least two evidences. Unverifiable content, including conspiracy theories, were not included in the analyzes.
We share the raw data behind our analysis, in the hopes that all the internet users concerned with the false contents phenomenon on social media, especially the academics specializing in this field, could benefit.
The most popular 5 false contents on the social media
The average number of interactions for popular false contents on social media was 25 thousand during the campaign period. Upon investigating the top five false contents with the highest interactions rates, it is seen that even the least popular content among the top five received twice the average interaction, whereas the most popular content was interacted with four times more than the average interaction rate.
The most popular false content was about SOLOTURK’s cancelled demo flight for greeting the main opposition party presidential candidate Muharrem İnce. SOLOTURK is the Turkish Air Combat Command F16 team that is widely known among the public with their demonstrative flights. During the campaign period, İnce shared an image of himself while greeting the SOLOTURK pilots upon coming across them at the airport. Rumors soon followed, claiming the cancellations were due to this encounter – although the chief of general staff had cancelled the flights before the images of İnce and pilots had surfaced. Previously, the dean of Istanbul University’s Cerrahpaşa Faculty of Medicine had been dismissed from his post several hours after presidential candidate İnce paid a visit to the campus. Not surprisingly, the misleading news story on the cancelled demo flight attracted a lot of attention on social media platforms.
When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in a parliament speech that he would “step aside, if one day” Turkish public tells him that “it’s enough”, a hashtag war erupted between those who agree #Tamam (it’s enough) and those who opposed #Devam (go on). Several influential users, including news websites and politicians, took part in the discussions revolving around the source location of tweets, using the screenshot of a false search inquiry to claim that tweets were mainly posted from foreign countries, hinting a possible outside interference based on inaccurate evidence.
Our analyzes also showed that the news websites were a lot more influential in spreading the false news on SOLOTURK’s cancelled demonstration flight. We found seven different news websites that published the content and shared it on their social media accounts.
Another interesting finding was the popularity of an image that was used out of context, especially compared to other false stories, despite the fact that it was shared by one single Facebook page. An image claimed to be taken during the main opposition candidate Muharrem İnce’s Kadikoy rally – though in reality it was from the July 15th commemorative ceremony – was shared around a hundred thousand times, which shows that it spread a lot more than many other false contents stories.
You can access the map where we locate the false contents spread during the campaign period via the Graph Commons link here.
Twitter is a hot bed for false contents, Facebook has the highest interaction rates
In light of our analysis it could be argued that false contents were a lot more frequently shared on Twitter with 43% of the entire false contents. Facebook, on the other hand, was following closely with 33%.
The video that claimed to show the moment Muharrem İnce was rejected a handshake by a female ballot box volunteer at a polling station, and the video that claimed to show an individual rigging the votes at a polling station in Diyarbakir was the fourth and fifth most popular false stories shared on Twitter, respectively.
Although our shared content statistics show Twitter as the leading platform, Facebook gets the first place in terms of interactions with posts.
This graphic shows the stories shared on Facebook received more than half of all the content interactions, whereas for the news websites the interaction rates were very small, with 6.5% of all interactions.
When we take a look at the most popular false contents on Facebook, the video that claimed to show President Erdogan as he plays a footage of Muharrem İnce singing during his rally, kept his ranking as the third most popular. However, at a rally organized by Erdogan, it is not true that Erdogan showed Muharrem İnce’s video while he sang. The claim video is photomontage. Erdogan, in the original video, played a video about Antalya Konyaaltı Coast Project.
The Popularity lists we gathered lead us to the conclusion that false contents becomes more prevalent as the images and videos increasingly get used out of context. Moreover, claims regarding the unidentified individuals in one of the polling stations and the cancelled SOLOTURK demo flight show that the lack of official and timely explanations from public institutions lays the ground for false contents.
Actors who spread the false contents
Investigating the user accounts that received the highest rate of interaction, we found three anonymous Facebook pages and two Twitter accounts, one of which was a verified account.
The accounts on the list were added not only because they shared fake content but also they received the highest interaction rates, such as the page called Linoge and official account of writer Metin Uca, who shared the SOLOTURK story, fan page of president Erdogan, R.T. Erdogan page that shared the content on Muharrem İnce dancing in a mosque, fan page of well known columnist Yilmaz Özdil that shared the fake Kadikoy rally image and the anonymous page called Arizali that shared the news story on the individuals rigging votes at a polling station.
From among these accounts, only R.T. Erdogan page made a correction, while Yilmaz Özdil ve Onurlu Yazarlar deleted their posts. The rest of the posts, however, can still be found on account profiles.
Crowdtangle, Facebook, Twitter, teyit.link
You can find the raw data here.
* False contents which have been circulated on WhatsApp groups are not included to analyze due to lack of data.
* This analyze has been prepared with posts which were transmitted to teyit.org and have been found by editors. Posts have not enough engagement to be seen as viral are not included.
* Engagement=Comment+Likes+Shares (for Facebook) Engagement=Likes+Retweets (for Twitter)
DATA SCRAPING AND EDITING:
DATA ANALYSE AND VISUALISATION:
Mehmet Atakan Foça