A Smear Campaign Backfires

The Mayor of Ankara, Ibrahim Melih Gökçek, has held his post for nearly 20 years. He has not covered himself in glory during this time, constantly fighting off rumors of corruption and nepotism. This weekend took him to a new low, when he targeted Selin Girit, a Turkish journalist employed by the BBC, in a smear campaign over Twitter. He said she was a spy “rented” by the British government, intent on betraying her country. He started a trending topic with the hash tag #ingiltereadınaajanlıkyapmaselingirit (“Don’t be an agent on behalf of England, Selin Girit”) and urged all his followers “who love their country” to re-tweet it.

Unfortunately for him, the campaign backfired when thousands started defending Girit and retaliating with hash tags such as ProvakatörMelihGökçek (Provocateur Melih Gökçek), which was the number one worldwide trending topic for some hours. Gökçek has responded by claiming that this inconveniently popular hash tag was instigated as a plot by the BBC, and declared he would sue anyone who used it.

Reading these Tweets has been very entertaining, a spot of light relief amid the depression following Saturday’s crackdown. One of my favourite exchanges was as follows:

Gökçek: “This [protest movement] will happen in England, just wait and see.”
Response: “Is that a threat, or just the voicing of free speech?”

I have said it before: the wit and good humour of protesters and social media users throughout this movement has been impressive and humbling. There is, admittedly, rich material to work with – namely the conspiracy theories spewing forth from the government like the script of a badly written sitcom. But there has also been plenty to enrage and depress protesters, which makes their creativity and wittiness even more uplifting.