DISINFORMATION AS THREAT SECURITY IN TURKEY
The transformation experienced with the paradigm shift of the concept of security reveals that, in addition to military threats, there are also economic, environmental, social and cyber threats. The widespread use of digitization and of technology has also made media networks an important new means of retrieving news. Once released, the immediate and rapid dissemination of information presents the phenomenon of disinformation as a new security threat, different from the conventional types of threats known. Disinformation in the Post-truth era (beyond the truth) is a matter of international security as the areas affected are expanding to a global scale. This study addresses the security dimension of information disorder. Furthermore, it presents a brief account of the activities of international organizations in the fight against disinformation in a general context and highlights the problem of disinformation in Turkey from the impact of the hybrid threats to the measures taken in order to limit them.
Keywords: Disinformation, Hybrid Threats, Post Truth, Fake News.
With the use of new forms of media and of news-receiving tools, the increase in the speed of production and dissemination of information and the uncontrolled spread in the affected areas have favored the construction of a new area from the perspective of the information ecosystem. The fact that each individual can be a content producer at the same time in the new information ecosystem has created the permissive basis for the uncontrolled circulation and multiplication of fake news. This new ecosystem in which is discussed the phenomenon of reality has begun to be analyzed from the perspective of the Post-truth concept (beyond truth).
Content-producing individuals have quickly become the levers for spreading disinformation, and together with the web 3.0 system they have the effect of artificial intelligence in the information ecosystem, thus becoming a fast tool in transmitting disinformation. As a result of mediation, the speed of communication and the increase in the coverage of large volumes of data appear as a new international threat in the context of the use of communication tools.
The characteristic of threats, considered a security issue as a result of changes in the global arena, is that they are not centered on the state apparatus. Threats to the environment, terrorism, epidemics and illegal migration can generally be listed as non-state threats. The change in the understanding of the paradigm on the threat phenomenon and the fact that the action itself is not state-centered, its perception as a strategic threat and the need to fight against it bring international cooperation on the agenda. (Eslen, 2005: 177). In this context, disinformation is a security threat that must be addressed as an international issue.
The issues that led to the transfer and dissemination of information under the new security agreement laid the groundwork for redefining the notion of security. In this context, technology and digitization create the opportunity to allow information to be reproduced. Moreover, the spread of disinformation in both the global and the regional arenas has led to negative results. The individualization, trivialization and ordinarization of reality increase while the information pollution is seen as a result of the period called Post truth. “Post truth era” is a concept used to express the period in which the possibilities offered by information and communication are unlimited and very easily accessible (Sismondo, 2017: 3).
In this study the issue of disinformation as a security threat will be addressed from the information and security point of view. Moreover, the paper will explain in detail why the dissemination of false and unverified information on social media channels can be a potential risk and a significant global threat. Next, the efforts to combat disinformation in a global context and the struggle of international organizations through the built structures will be detailed. In the last stage, in the context of disinformation spread, further insights will be given to the phenomenon of spreading erroneous data as a factor that threats the national security of Turkey.
1. The Relationship between Information and Security
The increasing diversity of communication technologies has led to acceleration in the production and dissemination of information. The current situation has prompted the reconsideration of the new dimension of concept of security. In this context we can say that there is a positive correlation between globalization and the speed of data dissemination.
Laity, NATO’s commander for strategic communication, emphasized that terrorism is the purest form of information warfare, and that violence is not unique to terror. Furthermore, the experienced counter-terrorism expert concluded that the social space affected by committing terrorist acts is restricted to a few individuals, while terrorism itself has a much wider impact on dozens of people “while we instinctively perform kinetic operations that they have informational effects, our opponents instinctively conduct informational operations that have kinetic effects ”. Information will be the main component in the fight against terrorism, all the more so since the root of the word “terrorism” implicitly refers to terror that bears the semantic values of terrorism, not of murder. (Güler, 2012: 9-21).
By the shift of occurrence of attacks from the real to the virtual space, the cyber threat was not directed at a clear “sender’s address.” In the virtual environment, everything becomes possible and nothing seems impossible to conceive and military rules or state borders in the real world seem meaningless (Theiler, 2011). The spread of information in the global arena has become a phenomenon that can threaten individuals, societies and states. Misleading or erroneous information such as fake news, misinformation and propaganda can serve the purposes of various interest groups, influence social masses and pose a threat to state security. The spread of non-state-centered disinformation has been defined as a security threat in the Global Risk Report published by the World Economic Forum in 2013 (WEF, 2013). In the new information ecosystem the following type of news co-exist: misinformation, disinformation, misleading information, cognitive threats and manipulated content (Akyüz, 2021: 174). The target audience is now your favorite news channel. In distinguishing between new media and conventional news, the channels used as propaganda tools by the new media were those of war and crisis.
In the environment in which the phenomenon of reality is constructed by guiding the perception, an area towards which the social masses can then be directed can easily be created. In this context it is crucial for individuals to be media-literate in order to be able to question, confirm and criticize news as a potential method of fighting against disinformation (Bostancı, 2019: 67).
The transition from mass society to a social media network society and, at the same time, from educating the society towards a critical approach of the news disseminated in the new media space becomes a security issue that must be tackled from the perspective of disinformation. The rapid increase in the number of pieces of information inevitably leads to the concept of post-truth. The concept was used during the Brexit process and the 2016 US presidential election and was referred to as the word of the year by the Oxford Dictionary in 2017. The concept of post-truth can be expressed as an acceptance of vernacular knowledge rather than objective reality and is seen as a threat to states, especially in the context of its transformation into a structure that can mobilize the social masses. According to Keyes, the concept of post-truth used as a result of the deliberate dissemination of disinformation was expressed in 1992 by Steve Tesich in “The Nation” (Keyes 2004: 22).
When defining the correlation between information and security, it is necessary to explain some essential elements of information security. According to John McCumber (2004), three criteria are needed for information to be secure (FIK, 2021). These are: confidentiality, integrity and accessibility of information (McCumber: 2004). During this period that we call post-truth in which digitalization is widespread, the analysis about the new media is also associated with the issue of validity of the information provided. The related issue is also assessed by actual facts and honesty. Furthermore, the dissemination of false information on new media channels has the direct effect of manipulating real data with high impact by influencing the social masses.
The access networks used to access information are also important in the relationship between information and security. The fact that the source is safe and correct is a determining factor. Mainstream media is one of the favorite sources among individuals because it is considered an effective source. The attitude of the individual in the exercise of accessing data can be perceived as a subjective process of construction. Unverified and clickbait information can also turn into a process that goes beyond its original purpose. In this regard the reliability of data consumption /data acquisition and verification channels is crucial.
2. The Issue of Security and of Disinformation
In the literature of international relations studies, the concept of security has been modeled mainly in terms of power strategies. The issue of security is a phenomenon that should be addressed gradually at global, regional, national and individual levels (Dedeoğlu, 2003: 21). In the ever-changing security paradigm, the concept of was has come to refer to information wars. In this context, due to the increasing influence of the media, influencing the masses has become much easier to achieve. Disinformation, which has replaced truthful information, has become an element of power and threat during its spread.
In recent years, the spread of disinformation both nationally and internationally has mobilized international organizations, making it a threat. NATO and other international organizations have also defined misinformation as a threat. According to the results of the Reuters Institute’s 2018 Digital News Report, Turkey ranks high among countries that are highly exposed to cyber attacks and disinformation. In this context, disinformation appears to be a threat to national and international security.
2.1. The Concept of Hybrid Threat
Frank R. Hoffman (2007) first expressed the concept of “hybrid” as a mixture of unconventional tactics and threats to achieve political goals by expressing the differentiation of threat elements (Hoffman, 2007). According to Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, hybrid threats mean “everything from the use of irregular forces, from tweets to tanks, especially disinformation and propaganda” (SAD, 2021). The diversity and form of hybrid threats is extremely wide, and the tools used range from fake profiles used on social media to sophisticated cyber attacks or even open use of armed forces. The space of hybrid threats has repeatedly illustrated that the tools used were chosen according to the target and to the expected result and often relied on a mix of tools. After the latest US presidential election, for example, the focus of forces on fighting against hybrid threats has focused on strategic communication, disinformation and interference in the electoral process (Hagelstam, 2018).
2.2. External Threats
The concept of external threat is defined as attacks carried out from the external environment with a clearly defined purpose of “making a profit” and “causing damage”. Disinformation is a major external threat in the post-truth era in which access to information is becoming easier and can be used as a real tool of social manipulation. In this context it is important for states to contribute to the development of a common strategic plan of action. Information wars seek to destroy the social, cultural and economic elements of the countries directly targeted.
According to the Reuters report (2018), the information ecosystem in Turkey is exposed to chaotic and distorted information pollution through manipulation and disinformation. In this context, information disseminated through new media is a threat because it can pave the way for the creation of polarization. The extreme political and social polarization of the Turkish information environment is one of the factors that are included in the vicious circle of disinformation along with toxic rhetoric and represents a substantial contributor to the deterioration of the quality of disseminated texts (Kırdemir, 2020: passim).
2.3. The Concept of Asymmetric Threat
Asymmetric threat is a type of threat that can create instability in the political, economic and social systems of countries. As a result of the sudden and current situation which it creates, it aims to be effective through the use of low-level force and technology ( MGK: 2021). The change in the security paradigm shows that even the characteristics of the wars have changed. According to Colin Gray (Gray: 2005), the asymmetric threat is characterized by the following:
• Does not know the rules regarding the appearance and use of warfare elements and tools.
• It is unusual and it is strangely structured.
• The current structure is different from the known types of warfare.
According to Gray (2002), the asymmetric threat is defined by its multilateral, unusual and unpredictable feature. In this context, according to the NATO definition, disinformation, misinformation and fake news have a structure that can be framed as an asymmetric threat. Disinformation is also a threat because the threat has no sender and no limits outside the rules of war.
2.4. Sharp Power
Sharp Power is defined as an attempt by a country to spread and influence manipulative news in order to mislead and harm the information-consuming public within the reach of a target country (Walker, 2018). According to the Digital News Report published by Oxford University, Turkey is the country most exposed to disinformation, with a percentage of 49%, and in this context disinformation is a threat to the country’s security.
3. Disinformation in Global Politics
In the conventional security paradigm, the main element dealing with security is the state. Moreover, a sign of a country’s power is the fact that the state takes a firm stand against attacks, a position which both deters the enemy and also stands up to various forms of threats. The concept of power, on the other hand, is one of the main determinants. After World War II the definition and scope of the conventional understanding of security has widened its range. Security has also been discussed and modeled in the context of value threats. In this context it would pointless to express the security of a worthless phenomenon (Dedeoğlu, 2003: 21). As a result of this transformation security benchmarks have been shaped as political, cultural, economic and cyber factors and have become a threat. Information technology and wars have been a factor in accelerating the spread of disinformation and of fake news. Disinformation differs from traditional threats in the international arena and is a factor that must be treated as a security threat and fought against.
There is a series of debates in the scientific field on the definition of the concept “Strategic Communication”, a term that was erroneously perceived as soft power, public diplomacy, propaganda, information and psychological warfare. The concept, often used in the economic and commercial space so that competitive institutions can reach customers by analyzing the target audience, ended up used in the political space, in the security field or in the fight against terrorism. Rıza Güler points out that the given definitions have made it possible to hide the nature and scope of the term, thus allowing room for confusion (Güler, 2012: 9-21). The argument is based on Tatham’s statement (Güler, 2010: 22-23) who notes that civilian academics erroneously tend to describe the concept of strategic communication as soft power, public diplomacy or as public relations, while the military may define it as information or psychological war. Sociologists and cynics might also see Strategic Communication as “distortion” or “propaganda” (Güler, 2012: 9-21).
Disinformation is, at the same time, a threat with a weapon effect that can have destructive effects through its complex and manipulative structure of social masses on a national and global scale. The state exposed to disinformation can sometimes even become a strategic target by all the factors that it represents. This situation is also important as a domestic and foreign policy issue that needs to be addressed in the context of short, medium and long-term security for the country concerned.
There are many types of well-defined channels on the vast network of the disinformation market: the producers ‘channel, the content disseminators’ channel and the consumers’/ buyers’ channel. In recent years there have been many efforts to limit the channels on the “global disinformation market”, to which public institutions, government agencies, scientists and non-profit organizations have contributed. The literature talks about the increasing number of “checks in English” which went up by over 900% in the first quarter of 2020. This is also explained by the need to ensure a society’s right to accurate and uncontaminated information during the pandemic, when the global dissemination of information has been categorized as the biggest challenge facing fact-finding organizations. Another challenge arises by using fake counts made on behalf of famous people on closed platforms, such as WhatsApp or Facebook. These have become the most favorable forms of disseminating erroneous facts, fake news or disinformation because the impact and the on the social masses is of increasing virulence. Speaking of manipulative activities in the Turkish information ecosystem, their virulence is no worse than in other parts of the world. On the contrary, as it is a major economic and tourist hub and in recent years has become a significant political and military power in the international force system, social media networks in Turkey are a favorite target for the creators of infodemic actions.
As a result, the consistent efforts of the officials, even if currently limited, are carried out in parallel with the actions taken by the national media in order to limit the effects of “infodemia”. Yet, this winding road has been hampered by the uncontrolled action of some news sources which are not keen enough to check the quality of the information provided. Furthermore, they have supported media coverage and dissemination of such news, thus significantly contributing to the credibility and the impact of false events (Kırdemir, 2020). Disinformation takes on significant proportions when news consumers also become distributors by disseminating erroneous or fake content without checking it. Two other very popular platforms in Turkey that provide information to a wide range of data consumers is YouTube or Instagram.
4. International Organizations in the Fight against Disinformation
9/11-2001 is perceived as the moment that brings a profound change to the meaning of “security” by gradually transferring it from a conventional physical space to a virtual one. Olaf Theiler’s attempt to pragmatically x-ray the development of cyber security marks 9/11 as the milestone of the beginning of a new era in which cyber-attacks different in form, structure, frequency, magnitude and impact will experience a significant evolution (Theiler, 2011).
The first serious cyber-attack was during the Kosovo crisis (1999), followed by Estonia (2007). In 2008, following the two DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial of Service), NATO was preparing a cyber-defense policy. DDoS attacks have already become a tool of information warfare (NAT, 2021). The growing threat to public security and to state stability has led to the development of the first cyber defense mechanisms and capabilities and has developed a “NATO Cyber Defense Policy” (Cyber Defense 1.0) outlining the three pillars of cyber-security policy. Moreover, Theiler points out in his study that the term cyber warfare was to take a much more concrete form during the Georgian-Russian conflict by the attack on the servers of the Georgian government. Access to official documentation through unknown-controlled servers, both in the Georgian episode and in 2008 (when the U.S. military computer systems faced an unprecedented attack by connecting a USB device to a laptop at a military base in the Middle East that allowed the undetected spread of spyware), led to the transfer of thousands of data files (Theiler, 2011).
The Cold War resized combat strategies. The 2014 Ukrainian crisis once again exposed NATO’s vulnerabilities and needs, thus convincing it that the most important task for the future was to develop strategic communications meant to limit Russian fighting tactics. Given that all NATO actions were focused on maintaining peace in the affected regions (Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, etc.), public affairs and diplomacy, as well as activities focused on StratCom, received major attention. The StratCom concept was developed in 2009 through the magnifying glass of the new acute needs for coordinated and coherent development imposed by the Ukrainian crisis (Uzun, 2021: 154-184). Stratcom called for the correct use of information through proper synchronization with relevant institutions in concerted action, acting pragmatically on socio-cultural structures, the history and traditions of key audiences, and the technological factors surrounding the use and transmission of information.
A structure of utmost importance for cyber security is The Nato Strategic Communication Center of Excellence. Established in January 2014 as a Latvian national institute, it was approved at the July meeting by Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the United Kingdom (Nato Annual Report, 2014: 3).
In NATO’s Revised Cyber Defense Policy, cyber threats are identified as a potential resource for accomplishing the collective defense task set out in Article 5, in line with the new Strategic Concept. The NATO Member States’ action plan has set out a number of tasks and priorities for good cooperation within NATO. Due to these developments, cyber security would be enhanced by the creation of “Cyber Defense 2.0” (Theiler, 2011). The Nato Strategic Communication Center of Excellence is structured to function as a research hub, bringing together specialists in multidisciplinary fields from strategic communication to public diplomacy, public and military affairs, information and psychological operations. Its operation mode is based on specialized, strategic and tactical research and planning (Nato Annual Report, 2014: 3).
Therefore, since its establishment in 2015, East StratCom (NATO StratCom COE) has focused its activity on disinformation from Russia. According to Rikard Jozwiak, during five years of activity, East StratCom has managed to detect more than 10,000 outbreaks of disinformation, of which more than 500 were related to the Covid 19 epidemic (Jozwiak, 2020).
The European Union was to propose for the first time the application of sanctions against disinformation in the Action Plan proposed for submission on 2nd December 2020, with the aim of limiting the effects of external operations. The document talks about information that can be used as a weapon by external actors. Such information is to be found in the EU in various manipulation operations topics (especially on Covid 19) and is initiated mainly from countries such as Russia and China (Gözkaman, 2020).
Since 2016, NATO and the EU have considered hybrid threats a priority issue. Their cooperation has given them the undisputed ability to limit and counter these threats. In this respect, the European Center of Excellence for Combating Hybrid Threats (Hybrid COE) in Helsinki-Finland plays a unique role in facilitating collaboration. An extremely detailed description of the European Center of Excellence for Combating Hybrid COE (Hybrid COE) can be found in Axel Hagestam’s study which outlines Finland’s comprehensive national security model. This model is based on a broad structure of authorities and agencies and can provide the necessary resources in order to conceive and implement the necessary measures to combat hybrid threats. International and supranational actors include civilian and military personnel in the joint NATO project as well as EU institutions, European Commission services and the European External Action Service (EEAS) (Hagelstam, 2018).
In 2016 the EEAS developed a common framework of 22 actions largely aimed at raising awareness and resilience through a joint statement signed in Warsaw (July 2016) between NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Presidents of the European Commission and of the Council. The “collective set of recommendations” was structured on 74 actions aimed at hybrid threats, cyber security, strategic communication (Hagelstam, 2018). Axel Hagelstam’s very comprehensive analysis targets the work of the European Commission and the External Action Service and allows us to address the most important concerns for cyber security. Concerning the hybrid threats and in order to prepare joint events and to process awareness actions across institutions in Europe, a first step towards a comprehensive security model is taken by forming a multi-level inter-service group within the European Commission and the European External Action Service. The Council of Europe Presidential Group Friends of the Presidency (FoP) then received an extended directive until June 2020 and covered four presidential terms in order to fight against hybrid threats. In this Group (FoP), Axel Hagelstam saw a possible permanent body with responsibilities in the field of hybrid threats – following the model of the NATO Civilian Emergency Planning Committee (Hagelstam, 2018).
In his analysis Hagelstam also describes the informal meeting (September 2018) that took place between the North Atlantic Council (NAC) and the Political and Security Committee of the European Union (SGK) on the discussion of a hybrid scenario developed with the support of the Hybrid Center of Excellence. In this way the joint exercises could be designed by providing cohesion to similar functional elements in the EU and NATO institutional structures around the proposed scenario. The development of a concept for the three Communities of Common Interest of the Center is commendable: the Community of Common Interest on Hybrid Influence chaired by the United Kingdom, the Sub-community of Non-State Actors (Sweden) and the Community of Common Interest on Weaknesses and Strengths (Finland). The three Communities of Interest structured their programs and exercises around issues such as legal resilience, maritime and port security, energy networks, drones and electoral interference. Germany presides over the Fourth Community of Common Interest in Strategy and Defense. Since April 2017 the interest of the states to take part in the activities of the Center has grown rapidly.
The Hybrid Center of Excellence is an independent legal entity that has played a unique role in consolidating and facilitating this collaboration with EU and NATO staff on hybrid threats through workshops, seminars and exercises. Representatives of both organizations participate in the meetings of the Board of Directors of the Center. The terms of office of the Presidency of Romania and Finland in 2019 brought new opportunities for cooperation in fighting against hybrid threats. The rampant spread of disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated government and non-government efforts to limit them. The Europol initiative in this regard is notable as it has led to the creation of an informative website for identifying fake news and of a short guide for the public. “First Draft” provides detailed resources for journalists with verification tools and a database of debunked claims, etc. (Hagelstam, 2018).
Because the issue of the pandemic questioned social security, researchers from academic institutions and the academia took the initiative of setting up special pages which stocked data on the content of materials according to topics. Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Informed Democracy and Social Security has reviewed more than 200 texts on preventive measures and treatments, the origins and nature of the virus, conspiracy theories, emergency responses, text lists, and fake information. The Arkansas Center for Social Behavior and Collaboration for Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS) also provides a list of known examples of personal information cases as well as tips for raising public awareness (Kırdemir, 2020: passim).
The number of disseminated text verification platforms has grown significantly worldwide over the last decade. In Turkey, too, the unprecedented spread of malicious or erroneous content has favored the implementation and development of verification platforms as a precautionary measure. According to H. Akın Ünver, the first verification platform founded by Turkish researchers was set up in 2009 by “Yalan Savar”. He notes in the study “Türkiye’de Doğruluk Kontrolü ve Doğrulama Kuruluşları” published in Ekonomi ve Dış Politika Araştırmalar Merkezi (Research in Economics and Foreign Policy – EDAM) the debunking of fake claims and fake scientific content about swine flu on the web and on the Internet. Ünver, 2020: passim).
Foto no. 1: The result of fact-checking of a news item in the conventional media on the platform „Doğruluk Payı”.
Other fact-checking platforms have started to bring their contribution one by one in Turkey:
Malumatfuruş, Evrim Ağacı, Doğruluk Payı, Teyit.org, Günün Yalanları, Fact Checking Turkey, Doğrula (Özdemir, 2021).
The IFCN (International Fact-Checking Network) comprising 55 countries and 92 institutions proposes a methodologically structured verification platform easily accessible to global validators, evaluated according to 32 complex criteria (public websites, financing, their management, creation of content and methodologies). IFCN was established in 2015 by the US Poynter Institute. Baybars Örsek became the director of IFCN in 2019. A founding member of the Doğruluk Payı fack-checking platform, referring to the institutions conducting text checks, Örsek emphasized that: ‘the verification institutions in Turkey play an important role by carrying out quality work which exceeds those of their counterparts in the world ”. He drew attention to the fact that the biggest disadvantage is the big channel of information consumers. In Turkey only Doğruluk Payı and Teyit.org are members of IFCN (Özdemir, 2021).
Photo nr. 2: Image with the symbol of the the „Doğru Mu?” aplication designed by tthe Turkish Ministry of Communication.
The ever increasing disinformation phenomenon has led to the founding of the “Doğru Mu?” which at the beginning of 2020 was in its testing phase and was placed under the supervision of the Presidential Communication Director, Fahrettin Altun. Referring to the new platform under construction he said “very soon one of the most powerful tools of our struggle for truth, <…> will become operational.” (Özdemir, 2021). But for two years neither the officials, nor the press have provided any additional information regarding the launch of this long-awaited platform. Even the proliferation of global fact-check platforms have made the data-consuming reader extra sensitive and cautious. In this context the Turkish consumer is faced with several responsibilities. Not only does he have to check the quality of the content of a text, but he is also challenged to check the platform in its defining points (such as sustainability resources, leadership, etc.). Of course, until the emergence of an official fact-check platform, the regular consumer will not show interest in going through so many check filters with a text that he or she will skim through for a few seconds anyway. But for researchers and specialists the condition of checking the sources and the platforms will be a new challenge for the profession until the implementation of an official uniform mechanism at academic level, upgraded according to the “updates” in the disinformation sector.
The increasingly complex problems that have arisen especially since 2015 in the space of misinformation have led a number of states to demand and speed up development strategies focused on Artificial Intelligence. This led to the establishment of a European Artificial Intelligence Council in 2021. (*** Yapay Zeka, 2020).
On August 20, 2021, Turkey made its national strategy for 2021-2025 public, having it focused on the development of Artificial Intelligence research. The strategies undoubtedly lead to the consolidation of the country’s security measures, to the improvement of the military defense system, to the security of the borders in the issue of illegal migration and thereby diminish the number of entries into the territory of the country of possible terrorist elements. At the same time, in order to prevent financing terrorism, there are measures meant to punish those who carry out terrorism-related activities.3 Storing software information is part of Turkey’s national security policies (Kendi, 2019: 1-7).
The Presiding Committee of the National Artificial Intelligence Strategies (August 2021) is under the direct leadership of the Ministry of Digital Transformation Bureau of the Turkish Presidency with the support of the Ministry of Industry and Technology. The projects proposed by the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy will be debated in the Committee (Genelge. 2021/8). The strategy paper “Ulusal Yapay Zekâ Stratejisi (2021-2025)” was prepared by the Presidency of the Digital Transformation Bureau under the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey and of the Ministry of Industry and Technology in cooperation with the public and the private sector, non-governmental organizations and universities.4
5. Disinformation as a security threat in Turkey
Due to its geopolitical position Turkey is strategically exposed to fake news and disinformation planned by state and non-state actors. At a time when asymmetric threats have spread, as a target of asymmetric threats, Turkey has become an important ally of NATO. According to reports from evaluation organizations and institutes, it has been officially announced that the largest news and fake content production channels come from Russia and the Middle East. This situation required fighting against disinformation as a security threat within a strategic plan.
Hybrid threats are very diverse and can be adapted in order to work on the vulnerabilities of the identified targets. As a result, each country needs to be aware of its vulnerabilities and its own weaknesses in order to be prepared for the type of hybrid threats it may face. Security plans must contain options to limit and stop information flows so that they do not turn into cyber storms. Conspiracy theories and disinformation have been at the forefront of information disseminated on conventional social media and media platforms in Turkey, linking the pandemic to pre-existing global conspiracies, biological weapons and pre-designed strategies to gain control of segments of the world’s population. Such falsifications are evenly distributed between rhetoric reproducing cases from other states, long-running myths and stories that have been partially distorted and adapted to the characteristics that match the political discourse in the Turkish news environment. There is a high level of passivity in conventional media, namely YouTube, Facebook and Twitter (Kırdemir, 2020).
As noted above, the conventional Turkish press or Turkish digital news media provided more coverage to false claims, hyper-partisan comments and conspiracy theories than other broadcasters in many other states in the world. On the other hand, news and videos released by the mainstream media generated a high level of interaction on social media, which allowed and favored some prominent conspiracy theories and pro-partisan content to gain prominence on platforms, which then quickly spread on YouTube , Facebook, Twitter and other platforms (Kırdemir, 2020).
Therefore, as a country surrounded by frequent and extremely important geopolitical events, Turkey is vulnerable to attempts at domestic and foreign social manipulation that ultimately serve the strategic objectives of hostile foreign elements (Kırdemir, 2020).
The concept of security has become conceptually controversial with the end of the cold war, outside of its conventional definitions. In the international arena, there has been a paradigm changing in which new threats are also dominant, apart from state and non-state actors. In this context, misinformation and harmful content produced through new media now appear as a political, social and economic threat to the states. The Turkish information ecosystem is exposed to fake news and disinformation disseminated through new media. Especially in recent times, the contents, where disinformation can be used as a threat factor, can also spread through bot accounts and news sites that transmit disinformation at a multiplier rate. In this context, disinformation can lead to harmful consequences such as polarization, discrimination and hyper-partisanship for the strategically targeted country.
The fact that manipulative content is created in the cyber environment reveals the importance of cyber security and media literacy. The use of individual verification channels is important to combat misinformation, which is an international security threat. In this framework, the ” Doğru mu platform” designed by the Republic of Turkey Directorate of Communications will be a powerful tool in terms of raising social awareness and combating the threat of disinformation. In this period when strategic communication is the dominant element, the Republic of Turkey carries out studies highlighting the image of Turkey with all its institutions and activates its fight against disinformation.
The emergence of disinformation as a new threat and security problem in the international arena has made it necessary for international organizations to develop cooperation for the fight. Systematic contents that are spread for the purpose of harming are in a structure that can trigger crises in the social, political or economic field for states. International and regional cooperation to be developed in this direction will be a factor in the fight against disinformation. Similarly, information wars and disinformation is threatened the democracy and political stability of countries. In the ongoing process, the implementation of short, medium and long-term strategies will reduce the risk of disinformation spreading.
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3 Presidential Decision no. 5062 of January 4, 2022, published in “Resmi Gazetesi”, January 5, 2022. https://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2022/01/20220105.pdf (on the freezing of the assets of persons or organizations according to art. 5 of Terrorist Financing Prevention Act and listed in the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1267/1999, 1988/2011, 1989/2011).
4 Presidential Circular Letter no. 2021/18 on the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (2021-2025), no. 31574 of 20.08.2021 (Ulusal Yapay Zekâ Stratejisi (2021-2025) ile İlgili 2021/18 Sayılı Cumhurbaşkanlığı Genelgesi), https://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2021/08/20210820-22.pdf.