Thirty social media users are under investigation for participating in a social media hoax, saying Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had passed away, the General Directorate of Security announced on Wednesday.
The 30 Twitter users had “posted insults, slander and content offending (Erdoğan’s) honour and reputation, as well as misinformation and manipulation”, and were detected during “around the clock virtual patrols” the directorate said. “Necessary efforts are carried out regarding posts containing lies and baseless misinformation, and (offenders) are referred to judicial authorities.”
Earlier in the day, the hashtag “#ölmüş” (“he died”) started trending on Twitter.
The viral hashtag followed discussions on Erdoğan’s health earlier in the week, with many speculating health issues as the Turkish president cancelled some of his plans for the day.
On Monday, Erdoğan flew back to Turkey from Rome instead of attending the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, due to security protocols the president demanded not being met.
A tweet from a since deleted account went viral, speculating “the guy” had three separate conditions and was “kept standing using former eastern bloc drugs”.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Aykut Erdoğdu said WhatsApp messages speculating on the president’s health had also started to make the rounds again.
In response to the viral hashtag, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun posted a video of Erdoğan, with the caption, “Trust for friends, fear for enemies”. Altun also posted photos from a meeting with deputies from the Parliamentary Commision for Digital Media.
In the evening the Presidency shared a video of Erdoğan speaking to reporters.
The president spoke of Turkey’s universities, hospitals and natural resources.
“In 19 years we have come to these days with the courtesy of our nation. We have had a path of service that continued to increase with no issues,” he said.
“The necessity has arisen that users who made the posts in question be identified and investigations and criminal cases be filed against the perpetrators,” Erdoğan’s lawyers said in their appeal to the Ankara chief public prosecutor’s office, as cited by daily BirGün.
Yiğit Bulut, chief advisor to Erdoğan, also posted a video of Erdoğan landing in Ankara.
“Speculate as much as you want. Turkish judiciary will take the necessary steps regarding those doing so,” Bulut said.
According to a report from 2019, so-called virtual patrol units under Turkish police investigated 30,000 social media accounts every day.
Turkish authorities had blocked 467,011 domains between the enactment of the Internet Act in 2007 and the end of 2020, according to a report by the Freedom of Expression Association (İFÖD).
In the report titled Fahrenheit 5651, referencing Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic and Turkey’s Internet Act No.5651, İFÖD found that Turkey had blocked 7,500 Twitter accounts and 50,000 individual tweets. Among the censored content are 12,000 YouTube videos and 6,800 Instagram posts.
More than 52,000 domains were blocked directly by the Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK) alone, with a total of 58,809 domains blocked in 2020.
Some 2,200 news websites were blocked in the same time period. More than 42 percent of news articles banned in 2020 were on Erdoğan, his family and his inner circle, according to daily Evrensel.
Bans continued in 2021, while Turkey’s Constitutional Court (AYM) ruled on Sunday that arbitrary access bans constitute violations of the right to freedom of expression and press freedom.