Commentary

Turkish Government Recruits 6,000 Social Media Activists

If you can’t beat social media, join it: that seems to be the conclusion of several governments seeking to counter criticism and dissent by forming their own social media task forces. This week the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) formed a team of 6,000 social media activists to help influence public opinion in the digital arena.

According to the WSJ these “social media representatives” are unpaid volunteers drawn from the ranks of the party’s younger supporters (presumably because they are more savvy “digital natives), who will use social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to monitor opinion and spread the party’s message.

The plan was unveiled as the AKP faces more protests, mostly involving young middle-class Turks and frequently organized online -- a fact which clearly got the ruling party’s attention.

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Back in June Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted Twitter and other social media as a “menace” and a “curse,” which he said was used to spread disinformation and foment rebellion, and there was talk of new rules forbidding “lies” and “slander” online. However AKP strategists have apparently decided it would be wiser to try to co-opt social media than restrict it.

Last month Israel revealed plans to hire college students to serve as social media foot soldiers with the mission of countering anti-Israel and anti-Semitic messages online. The students will take to social media to spread pro-Israel messages and combat efforts to organize boycotts against Israel, for which efforts they will be rewarded with full or partial scholarships.

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