Take the NATO incident more seriously

Take the NATO incident more seriously

Have you seen that special Eurobarometer survey on the effect of digitization and automation on daily life? It was released this May. Only 7 percent of the participants say that they find news stories coming from social media trustworthy and 93 percent are not influenced. Considering all that talk about Russian interference, the idea may seem comforting. Not so fast. You may think that 7 percent is not that big, but think about acutely divided societies. Seven percent is more than enough to destabilize a country by itself.

There are all sorts of strange news sources on the internet these days. There are often unsigned news stories playing into people’s fears—tank movements on one’s borders, shady terrorists being clothed and fed by one’s enemies, agents thinly disguised as NGO workers, and the list goes on. These stories have sensational titles, and make for ideal click bait. Much of it makes its way to conventional media, so we see it in ink and on TV screens.

That’s why politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are moving forward to deal with election meddling through social media networks. It was once a point of pride to say that Facebook had around two billion users. Now it has come to be considered a growing threat. It is too useful of a platform for all kinds of propaganda and fake news.

EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager very recently accused large tech companies of exploiting our data, stifling competition and undermining democracy. That was on Nov. 7, 2017 at the Web Summit in Lisbon. I was in Berlin last weekend. I saw a Canadian delegation visiting to learn more about recent German efforts to strengthen cyber security and police social media. Germans already have an exemplary new legislative framework. Countries are trying to learn from each other to deal with this new menace. One might say that this kind of disinformation is a negative externality of the new industrial revolution.

Yet, all the discussion is about the meddling in countries on both sides of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, Turkey has not been part of this heated debate, as far as I can see. Turkey has around 60 million Facebook users, by the way, out of the 80 million. Neither Turks nor our allies consider Turkey to be a suitable candidate to be targeted by such covert information operations. But we had these kinds of campaigns in the Cold War years, and it’s good to be cautious these days.

Yet, I hear signs to the contrary on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether the issue is U.S.-Turkey relations or Turkey-EU relations, I often hear more or less of the same phrase, “but that was during the Cold War years,” as if those good old days are over now. As if new days are asking for new ways, bringing a total disregard of things related to Turkey.

I tend to disagree. With the turmoil in our neighborhood, the land value of Turkey has soared back to that of the Cold War years. It is the EU-Turkey refugee deal that made Europe much safer, despite all the criticism. Turkey has once again become the southeastern flank of NATO and our civilization. Destabilizing Turkey amounts to destabilizing Europe and our transatlantic alliance once more.

Keeping all this in mind, I consider the recent NATO incident as the last straw. It led to a new round of seemingly meaningful NATO and West bashing in Turkey, which is not good for either side. Have you heard about how the names of both Atatürk and Erdoğan were added to the enemies list of the military exercise in Norway? It happened a week ago. The NATO secretary general and Norway apologized for the apparent mishap. Yet, both the event and its spread on social media networks need to be analyzed thoroughly, if you ask me.

I take the NATO incident very seriously. I would recommend our allies do the same. If it is happening over there, it might also be happening here, too. Technology, after all, doesn’t stop at the border during this age of the fourth industrial revolution.

Güven Sak, hdn, Opinion