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Online political trolling in the context of post-Gezi social media in Turkey

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Drawing on the approach suggesting that the analysis of social media in relation to democracy should be provided within its own social context, we outline the social media activities adopted by the ruling populist political party in Turkey, namely, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), aimed at reinforcing its political ideology. We also unpack the ‘political online trolling’ as a manifestation of online practices driving the post-truth politics in Turkey. Following the Gezi protests, when social media and, in particular, Twitter gained trust and popularity as a news source due to severe censorship and polarization in the traditional mass media, the AKP adopted an aggressive strategy to attack and destroy all opposition as well as to manipulate public opinion through their political trolling activities. Employing the approach of digital ethnography and drawing on the archive of mass media outputs about the trolling events, we discuss how the ruling party has adopted online political trolling as a strategy, one that is deeply embedded in the political system, politicians and mainstream media. We also explain how trolling practices are facilitated by the coordinated work of these institutions to silence all critical opposing voices, in particular journalists and how they stifle public debate that is grounded in truth and evidence. We have also concluded that the chilling effects of political trolling lead to quitting social media, self-censorship and less participation in public debate of unprotected citizens who are the most vulnerable targets for the trolls. The trolls have targeted the dissent voices not only for criticizing the government publicly, but also to brand them as terrorists and traitors through increasingly polarizing and discriminating language based on nationalist and religious perspectives, which peaked in the aftermath of the 15 July coup attempt and the debates on the presidential regime. Far from condemnation of the trolling activities along with their polarizing and hateful rhetoric, the mainstream culture and public discourse seem to have been taken over by an increasing trolling subculture, which inhibits public debate, discredits the sources of truth, fosters fanaticism and encourages a hate discourse and violence, all of which are undermining democracy.
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Keywords: Gezi protests; Justice and Development Party; Turkey; Twitter; political trolling; post-truth; social media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Communication and Media Research Institute, University of Westminster 2: Istanbul Bilgi University

Publication date: November 1, 2017

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  • The International Journal of Digital Television will describe and explain the transition to digital TV and wider trends in television. As switchover happens across the globe and television's operations and audiences are transformed, the International Journal of Digital Television will be at the forefront of efforts to understand the changes and developments.
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