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Erdoğan plays deepfake video at election rally to show opposition linked to terrorist group

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shocked many during an election rally in İstanbul on Sunday when he played a deepfake video portraying the opposition as connected to a terrorist group.

Seeking to extend his two-decade-long rule in the presidential election on May 14, Erdoğan addressed his supporters at a big rally in İstanbul’s now-closed Atatürk Airport in Yeşilköy.

Erdoğan, who has been accusing the opposition and their joint presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of working hand-in-hand with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), stopped at one point to show a video without telling his supporters it had been altered.

In the video, which begins with Kılıçdaroğlu singing the opposition’s election song, Murat Karayılan, a senior PKK leader, is also seen singing the same song while clapping his hands.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s southeast since 1984.

“Would my nationalist citizens vote for them?” Erdoğan asked. “Look, this is very important,” he said as the video was being played.

The CHP leader had already warned last week about the use of possible “Cambridge Analytica-style” tactics and the use of deepfake videos 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 also said the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) 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.

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.

Observers say Erdoğan is facing the most challenging election of his two-decade rule as he trails Kılıçdaroğlu 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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