Istanbul, Turkey – A soft-spoken parliamentarian, it’s easy to overlook Fatma Benli in a busy cafe until she starts recalling the disinformation campaign that nearly derailed her election bid two years ago.
The small room we’re in begins to shudder as the sitting MP for the ruling AK Party passionately explains that she could have lost were it for fake news and online narratives.
“There was fake news circulating on every major social media platform,” the 44-year-old told Al Jazeera, reeling off a litany of examples where she and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were repeatedly attacked in spurious social media posts.
“Facebook, Twitter, it came from all sides.”
With just days to go until Turks head to the polls for presidential and parliamentary elections, millions of voters are once again being bombarded with a deluge of fake news reports which could sway the biggest election in nearly a century.
President Erdogan and his ruling AK Party are expected to narrowly win the June 24 poll, but experts say it could be a tight race due to fake news, with dozens of fake stories emerging every day, many of them disseminating anti-government propaganda.
Mehmet Atakan Foca, the editor-in-chief of Teyit, a Turkish myth-buster and news verification website, said the abundance of fake news “was having a direct impact on the quality of Turkish democracy.”
“We’ve seen an uptick in fake news stories on social media, and this could be because people are unknowingly sharing false information, but also because of political and propaganda purposes.
Fake news stories touch on a broad range of subjects, from unproven cancer cures to celebrity hoaxes. But fake political stories have drawn wide scale attention because of the possibility they can influence people’s perceptions and sway elections.
In a survey following US President Donald Trump’s shock electoral win in 2016, Pew Research found that 64 percen