Turkey’s General Directorate of Security has announced that it has started legal proceedings against social media users on charges of causing fear and panic among the public by spreading disinformation about wildfires that have been wreaking havoc across southern and western Turkey since last Wednesday, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported.
The directorate said in a statement on Sunday that it has been identifying individuals who were spreading false information about the recent wildfires on their social media accounts and was pursuing legal action against them.
“In recent days, social media platforms have been used to spread disinformation about the recent wildfires … in our country by posting images of wildfires that occurred in other countries as if they had occurred in Turkey, or by posting images taken from movies or by reposting images of older wildfires in Turkey,” the statement said.
The police accuse these social media users of “inciting hatred and animosity against some groups” and publicly “denigrating the state and government.”
Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun had hinted in a tweet on Saturday at a crackdown on social media users posting remarks critical of the way the Turkish government has been handling the wildfires, describing the criticism as “systematic disinformation, provocation and operations to manipulate public perception” and “seeking to trigger social fault lines.”
“All relevant state authorities are ready to combat both fires and such systematic disinformation and perception-mongering operations. Those who attempt to provoke our nation by operating behind fake accounts will be held to account for their deeds in the courts,” he tweeted.
The death toll in wildfires that have been devastating Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts since Wednesday has risen to eight, with hundreds more injured.
The blazes have destroyed huge swathes of pristine forest and forced the evacuation of residents from their villages and tourists from their hotels.
The fires also have brought Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under a new barrage of criticism over the seemingly sluggish and out-of-touch response to the blazes.