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  HOME PAGE 24/09/2021 06:15 
03.08.2021 16:11 News >> Thousands Of Sock Puppet Accounts Manipulated #Helpturkey Hashtag: Expert

Thousands Of Sock Puppet Accounts Manipulated #Helpturkey Hashtag: Expert

Online manipulation operations are meant 'to put governments of countries in difficult situation,’ says Marc Owen Jones.

As firefighters work day and night to battle wildfires in southern Turkey, #HelpTurkey became a trending hashtag, but careful examination of the hashtag's origin and the accounts that popularized it revealed a sinister effort from abroad to denigrate Turkey and harm its national unity, with some innocent users unwittingly getting caught in the plot.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Marc Owen Jones – an assistant professor at Qatar's Hamad Bin Khalifa University and an expert on disinformation and social media – shed some light on how false identities and automated accounts were being used to smear Turkey.
"The HelpTurkey hashtag, which reached 2.7 million people, was definitely manipulated," he said.
With "manipulation by fake accounts run by multiple accounts by using single persons or single entities, this account tries to drive engagement and make the hashtag trend," he explained.
They seek to tweet as much as possible and make the hashtag a trending topic, he said, adding: "We saw this manipulation in the HelpTurkey hashtag."
Jones said it is unclear exactly why this "systematic manipulation" was started in the first place and who was behind it, but continued:
"Persons or institutions that carry out a similar operation are trying to put the current governments of the countries in a difficult situation. Organizations that do this have many names, such as PR agencies, advertising agencies."
But their main purpose, he said, is not to actually help Turkey, but instead to make the government look weak.
Asked about the objectives of systematic attacks on social media, Jones said influencing people's access to information, and adding their own perception is an important factor.
"What they want to do in this manipulation is to make people click on the HelpTurkey Hashtag and make people angry, anxious, and panicked," he said.
They also want to convince people that "the current government is dysfunctional. This is the purpose of this attack. The operation is extremely large and costly," as one can see by the number of tweets involved, he explained.
-Let the tweeter beware
According to Jones, due to such systematic attacks, social media users should avoid sharing things whose source they do not know, and especially younger users should educate themselves about social media manipulation.
Commenting on the aims of the multilingual tweets systematically posted under #HelpTurkey – often with a "Global Call" visual inviting international dissemination – he said: "It is something made with the copy-paste method and aims to bring the problem to international platforms as much as possible."
"What's weird is that this has been done on a regular basis from persistent bot accounts," he added, using a term for automated accounts run by software, not the "users" often pictured alongside the accounts.
Jones pointed to the oddness of having "a social media user living in China in Japan react to this event (in Turkey) and interpret the event" within the framework of the powers trying to denigrate the Turkish government, suggesting that this points to the users not being genuine.
-Thousands of fake/fictional users originated trend
In a Twitter thread, Jones analyzed the growth of the topic and how some accounts pushed the hashtag and then suspiciously deleted their retweets shortly after reaching a global audience, also pointing to how many passionate "HelpTurkey" accounts quickly disappeared or hopped onto different names.
"Now I am not certain of the origins of this (HelpTurkey) tweet, but it was tweeted by what I believe are a lot of Turkish celebrities," he wrote.
"A lot of the accounts tweeting this message are likely real people, inspired by celebrities and others, although what's not clear is who is telling people to copy and paste the English content as opposed to just retweeting it?" he said.
"In addition to this sheer volume of copy pasta" – a derogatory term for online posts simply copied from elsewhere, not written by the current user – "the peak activity (in the 'HelpTurkey' hashtag) occurred past midnight Turkish time," Jones said, adding that this "seems pretty late."
According to Jones, "another bizarre aspect of the trend was the copy-and-pasted multilingual calls" which translated into "Turkey is on fire and needs help," many of which were meant to generate engagement with the topic.
"There is clearly a lot of manipulation going on (in the hashtag) 'HelpTurkey'," Jones argued.
"In addition to being boosted by real people and celebrities, it is being artificially manipulated by what is likely to be thousands of sock puppet accounts," he added, referring to accounts using fictional identities.
As many Turkish social media users identified #HelpTurkey as a disguised plot from abroad to attack the country's reputation and its national unity, soon afterwards a counter trend titled #StrongTurkiye was launched on Twitter, with users stressing that the Turkish state is more than capable of handling troubles on its own.
*Writing by Ali Murat Alhas​​​​​​​ -



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