Erdoğan’s governing party plans campaign to attract first-time voters

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has developed a social media plan to attract the votes of 7 million young people eligible to cast their ballots in the elections scheduled for 2023, Hürriyet newspaper reported on Wednesday.

A 92-page digital media report was presented by AKP Deputy Chairman Mahir Ünal at a meeting of the party’s Central Executive Board (MYK) on Tuesday, chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

The report stated that in 2023 around 7 million young people aged 16 to 23 years old will be able to vote in Turkey, and that more of an effort must be made to reach them online and particularly via social media such as YouTube and Instagram since they are less likely to consume content on more traditional media, such as television. 

The report cited a recent documentary on Cambridge Analytica - which has been accused of illegally harvesting personal data through Facebook to influence voting in elections - as showing that voting behaviour can be manipulated online. The report said awareness raising among members of this generation was necessary in order to avoid them being vulnerable to disinformation and harmful material shared online.

The report also stated a need for more legal regulation over “harmful” content on social media to guard against material promoting terrorism, hate crimes, harassment, and threats. 

Hürriyet said that, in the report presented by Ünal, the phrase "Our sovereign rights include a Cyber Homeland," was used.

Erdoğan and his ruling AKP stepped up efforts to reach out to young people, a segment of the population where they are losing support, ahead of local elections last year.

A new online election advertisement that emerged on Turkish social media tried to persuade young people to vote and presented them with the nightmare scenarios that would result if AKP were defeated - including outcomes such as violent protests and petrol shortages. 

Late last month, Turkish presidential spokesman Fahrettin Altun issued a warning to social media users in Turkey over their posts in an interview with Hürriyet newspaper.

Altun said internet users would be held responsible for what they shared on social media under Law 5651 on online crime, and warned them against sharing or liking posts that could be deemed manipulative, provocative, or false. 

“Users are responsible for what they share on social media…it is necessary to be careful before you like or share content,” he told Hürriyet. 

In April, the AKP’s parliamentary allies, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) proposed a law that would require social media users to register an ID number to access popular online platforms. 

MHP Deputy Halil Öztürk, who submitted the proposal to parliament, said the bill aimed to stop the spread of fear-inducing “fake news’’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, but critics said it would effectively end online anonymity and stifle dissent.