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Kılıçdaroğlu says Erdoğan gov’t hired foreign hackers for online campaign against him

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Turkey’s main opposition leader and presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has claimed that the ruling party hired foreign hackers to launch an online campaign against him using fake videos and images and paid them in bitcoin, local media reported on Thursday.

Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Thursday answered a question during a live broadcast on KRT TV regarding his recent remarks about potential cyber interference in the elections slated for May 14.

The CHP leader earlier this week tweeted a warning to Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun about the use of possible “Cambridge Analytica-style” tactics in the last 10 days before the elections, sparking a debate on election meddling.

Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct British political consulting firm, became infamous for its involvement in the manipulation of voter data and targeted political advertising during the 2016 US presidential election. The company’s tactics have since become synonymous with data privacy violations and unethical practices in election campaigns.

Kılıçdaroğlu on Thursday said they received and confirmed through various channels the information that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government had hired foreign hackers to launch an online campaign against him days before the elections and paid them in bitcoin.

He said the hackers were hired to spread negative propaganda about him and his party by altering videos and images of him using a technique called “deepfake.”

Deepfake is an artificial intelligence-based technology that is capable of creating or manipulating videos, images and audio recordings to make them appear real, but they are actually fabricated or altered. Deepfake technology can be used to create realistic-looking videos or audio recordings of people saying or doing things they never actually did, which can be used for malicious purposes such as spreading fake news, disinformation or propaganda.

“They know they will lose the election. [That’s why] they’re searching for ways to win the election with slanders and lies. … This shows they’re in a state of panic,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, referring to the ruling party.

The opposition leader has been criticizing the government’s divisive language and accusing it of attempting to manipulate the elections.

In a rally in Kayseri on April 29 Kılıçdaroğlu said, “I know the dirty tricks they’ll try in the last 10 days.”

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, imprisoned since 2016, has also warned against potential manipulation and disinformation during the election.

In a series of tweets Demirtaş urged people to be cautious of untrustworthy social media accounts and not to share or engage with any information from these sources.

Observers say Erdoğan is facing the most challenging election of his two-decade rule as he trails Kılıçdaroğlu, the presidential candidate of an opposition alliance of six parties, in the polls.

The alliance led by Kılıçdaroğlu has pledged to restore democracy, release jailed opposition figures, revive freedom of expression and return to economic orthodoxy if it wins the parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14. Their goal is to undo President Erdoğan’s two-decade legacy of highly centralized rule.

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