Political Retweet Rings and Compromised Accounts: A Twitter Influence Operation Linked to the Youth Wing of Turkey’s Ruling Party


On Thursday, June 11, Twitter announced the takedown of 7,340 accounts that tweeted about 37 million times. Twitter attributes the network to the youth wing of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey’s ruling party. The network generally targeted Turkish citizens, and aimed to promote the AKP and criticize the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Republican People’s Party (CHP). The network included several pro-AKP retweet rings along with single-issue batches of fake accounts. According to Twitter, the network included both compromised accounts, which were centrally managed, and fake accounts. The takedown includes accounts linked to groups that were critical of the government, but targeted repeatedly by hackers. 

This is not the first Twitter disinformation campaign that targeted Turkish citizens and pushed content supportive of the ruling party. As a response to the widespread anti-government uprising in the summer of 2013, the AKP formed a team of 6,000 members to shape public opinion and counter government critics on social media. The group, called AK Trolls, has organized “online lynching” campaigns targeting journalists, politicians and government critics. Like the network in the June 11 takedown, the AK Trolls were known to compromise social accounts. Additionally, in October 2019 DFRLab identified a network of inauthentic accounts that aimed to mobilize domestic support for the Turkish government’s fight against a Kurdish militia in Syria.