New online group targets Turkish gov't opposition on Twitter

The newly launched “Operation Nightjar” has taken the place of the Pelicanists, a clique of influential loyalists within Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in using aggressive media tactics to affect Turkish public opinion, Erk Acarer wrote in an op-ed for leftist newspaper Birgün on Saturday.

“There's a paramilitary spirit circulating in the virtual world. It's the latest stunt by the AKP, which governs Turkey with trolls. You've heard the name Operation Nightjar by now,” Acarer said.

Operation Nightjar feeds on the concept of “nationality with religion” and is funded by the AKP, the journalist wrote, adding that the online group created a public channel on the popular messaging app Telegram on May 10. The channel had 21,000 members at the time this article was published.

The channel contains posts instructing members such as spamming or reporting specific Twitter accounts or supporting tags on the social media platform.

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On May 11, a day after the channel’s launch, the group released a statement it would target those “who antagonise the state and the nation on Twitter; those who share manipulative and false information; those who make terrorist propaganda, praise the terrorist and terrorist acts; those who call for coup, street action or social action; those who insult the values of the nation.”

The majority of those in Operation Nightjar are members of AKP youth branches, Acarer said.

On May 20, a post from the group called for its members to spam a message on the Twitter account of Eren Erdem, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

"Dear Eren Erdem, if war broke out, would it be on the side of Iran or the Nightjars?" the post told members to write, additionally suggesting members could also make other comments and ask questions, provided they did not swear or insult.

Operation Nightjar also focused attention on Banu Özdemir, former vice president of the CHP-controlled Izmir, who shared the story of "Bella Ciao" played out of speakers from the mosques in the province.

“The person who is CHP's vice president of Izmir Province, tweeted the videos of these moments with great pleasure, making fun,” the group said. It asked people to tell Özdemir that his comments were harmful and hate speech against a “protected category”.

Özdemir had informed the mufti before anyone about the speaker incident, Acarer said.

“In the end, he was arrested on the grounds that he ‘caused an outrage in society’,” he said.

The journalist called Operation Nightjar a “staging ground” for Özdemir’s arrest after Turkish activist Taylan Kulaçoğlu, journalist Hakan Gülseven and photographer Fırat Erez were taken into custody last Sunday on charges related to their social media activities.

“Many names were put on (the group’s) target list” after these events played out, Acarer said.

“It is possible to summarise how the country came to where it is now through the Operation Nightjar,” Acarer said.