How social media influenced Turkey's election campaigns: Looking back

As of 6 pm local time in Turkey, all elections campaigns have been stopped to give few hours of rest to the voters in Turkey. 

Following the sale of the Doğan Media Group to a pro-government businessman in March, more than 90 percent of the media is controlled by pro-government media groups. This leaves little space for the opposition to make themselves heard and as a result, they have naturally turned to social media to reach their supporters for the election on June 24. The touch of Turkey’s millennials could be felt in most of the social media materials, as all parties tried to attract young voters.

Good Party

The newly established nationalist Good party and the party’s leader Meral Akşener used social media very effectively during the campaign period.

One of the party’s social media teams’ brilliant ideas was to use Google ads for campaigning. People who made searches on google, came across unexpected Good Party campaign materials.

For example, when people searched who was eliminated in Turkey’s widely followed television contest Survivor, the first thing they saw was a Good Party ad, saying “we don’t know who won, but we know who will win on June 24”.

People who searched “impotence”, “properties for sale”, and “weather forecast”, also came across Good Party’s ads. 

In Turkey, election songs of political parties has a long history. One of the official election songs of Good Party, named “turn your face to the sun”, even hit number one in terms of number of plays on the Turkish version of Spotify. 

“I will not bow, I cannot call someone without love in his heart a ‘sir’

I will not give in, you may curse me, you may get me jailed, I cannot stop speaking

I will not surrender, this village is mine, this city is mine, I cannot leave them to you

I am not afraid of the dark, there is a fire inside me… Until the sun rises once again”

Felicity Party

The Islamist Felicity Party was the social media star of this election campaign, with interesting material continually posted on different platforms. 

The party’s social media team used the image of famous cartoon character Popeye the sailor in their ads, as the character is named ‘Temel Reis’ in Turkish and shared the same first name with the party’s leader Temel Karamollaoğlu.

In another campaign clip, Temel Karamollaoğlu this time is Superman and saves a car symbolising Turkey, which Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is driving full speed towards the edge of a cliff.

Another ad was called “the tree of Felicity”, referring to the highly acclaimed "The Wild Pear Tree”, a recent movie by Turkey’s one of the most important directors, Nuri Bilge Ceylan. In the Felicity Party’s version, two young male characters, sitting inside a car, enter a deep conversation about whom to vote for in the upcoming elections.

Republican People’s Party

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) has always been strong on social media, as the party’s supporters dominate most platforms. One of the well-known CHP supporter accounts tweets on behalf of the cat Şero, the official party cat living in headquarters. Şero posted tweets on what is happening inside the CHP and what his thoughts are.

Muharrem İnce, the CHP’s presidential candidate, also actively used his social media account. He used videos of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and popular social media references to respond Erdoğan’s words during his rallies. 

In one rally, İnce first made his supporters watch a video of Erdoğan saying “He is everyone’s pasha (general)”. İnce then showed a clip from a famous Turkish movie named ‘Tosun Paşa’, widely popular in Turkey, in which two traditionally rival Turkish families, the "Seferoglus" and "Tellioglus" compete for the "Green Valley". In the scene İnce used during his rally, the idiotic butler of the Tellioğlu family, Şaban, turns to the household and says: “I am a pasha, you are a pasha, she is a pasha…”

One of the CHP’s election films also went viral. In this animated cartoon, the CHP’s leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu talks to the youth. “Friends? Don’t you think I don’t want these? The download speed to increase, the fair access quota to rise, more independent movies to be produced in the country, fine arts and culture to blossom…”

People’s Democratic Party

For the People’s Democratic Party, social media has been an important tool, as the party’s presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş is in jail and the party’s election teams have been attacked in various places. 

Demirtaş has always used social media effectively to reach people. This time he has run a whole campaign through social media, making social media rallies. A team, including one of his sisters has worked for Demirtaş. He asked his supporters to send him his questions and wishes, then his answers were posted by the team at an announced date and time.

Demirtaş’s wife, Başak Demirtaş, also used social media effectively, campaigning for her husband and sending messages of love. In one of those examples, Başak Demirtaş posted a footage from their marriage party, in which she is dancing and Selahattin Demirtal is playing saz. “Just like in our marriage party you played saz, the days that I will dance with all our people are close,” wrote Başak Demirtaş.

Selahattin Demirtaş also composed a song from his cell. During a phone call from prison, he sang the song to his wife, who recorded it. Then famous singers and musicians helped the Demirtaş family in reaching the song Demirtaş’s supporters. Demirtaş’s voice is heard at the beginning of the song called “don’t be afraid”.

Demirtaş could not participate his party’s election rallies, as all his legal demands to be released during the campaigning period have been rejected by the Turkish courts. Yet, Demirtaş was allowed to make a propaganda speech in Turkish state television TRT. The propaganda speech was live broadcasted at a HDP rally in İstanbul on June 20. 

Justice and Development Party

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has dominated political advertisements in Turkey for a long time. The party’s clips and promotional videos have always been impressive, like this one from 2014.

President Erdoğan’s most trusted advertiser, Erol Olçak, was killed at the night of the 2016 coup attempt, when he went to Bosphorus bridge to stop the soldiers. After Olçak’s death, during the campaign for the referendum in 2017, in the AKP continued to work with Olçak’s company, now run by his brother. However, for the presidential and parliamentarian elections on June 24, the AKP preferred to work with new advertisers.

The consequences of this decision could be observed from the campaign materials of the AKP. In some cases, some television and social media ads disappeared hours after they were put online. 

AKP supporters added English subtitles to the most recent television ad prepared by the party’s new team for president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

President Erdoğan also used social media to reach young voters. In one such occasions Erdoğan responded a young student who invited Erdoğan to sahur -the meal eaten during Ramadan before sun rises-. Erdoğan made sahur with the students and answered their questions. 

A week later, Erdoğan’s wife Emine Erdoğan posted a tweet saying that young people who will respond to the tweet would be invited to sahur in the presidential palace, adding that there would be a positive discrimination for young women.

Both of those event were live broadcasted on social media. 

AKP also employs a large number of people why run social media accounts to support the party. Those social media staff, which are called trolls by the opposition, has also worked for this election campaign, using different hashtags.