Turks manipulate trending topics in spite of Twitter
A Turkish company can push any hashtag to the top of the Turkish TT list within 10 minutes and to the top of the worldwide TT list in 15 minutes. REUTERS PhotoMany Turks are still manipulating “trending topics” on Twitter, mostly for political aims, despite the social media giant’s attempts to stop them, a Hürriyet columnist has revealed through an experiment.
Cengiz Semercioğlu wrote in his column Nov. 12 how his own hashtag, #CengizSE, hit the trending topic (TT) lists the previous day. “I see that any person can push a hashtag to Turkish and worldwide TT lists within 10-15 minutes,” Semercioğlu wrote.
A trending topic is a word or phrase that is tagged at a greater rate than other tags and it is shown in a list, global or localized, on Twitter.
Semercioğlu’s experiment started when he saw a Turkish hashtag on the worldwide TT list on Nov. 11 that mentioned a phone number based in Istanbul with the phrase, “Your Social Media Agency.”
“I called the number and Oğuz Can Güzey, the owner of a company called City Ajans, answered the phone,” Semercioğlu said. Subsequently, the company pushed Semercioğlu’s hashtag to the top of the Turkish TT list within 10 minutes and the worldwide TT list in 15 minutes as an experiment, without charging a fee.
“They do it by abusing Twitter's software vulnerabilities,” Semercioğlu added. Güzey told him that 800 accounts were enough to manipulate the TT lists, but stressed that none of the accounts were hacked. Instead, the profiles are real people who permit certain applications, many of which are misleading such as “Who Viewed My Profile,” to tweet on behalf of them at anytime.
“We’re a professional agency. We charge 250 Turkish Liras for staying on the TT list for one hour. We can keep you there for the whole day, but the price can be as high as 5,000 Turkish Liras,” Güzey said.
As can be seen live on Twitter every single day, pay-for-TT hashtags in Turkish are diverse, from private firms that use the service for their advertisements, to ordinary citizens, or even lovers opting to propose to their partners in an unusual way.
The most frequent customers, however, promote political slogans, Güzey admitted.
Twitter removed fake accounts created in Turkey with “manipulative” political motives on the eve of the March 30 local elections. The "botnets" were deleted regardless of their political affiliation at a time when the TT lists were dominated by Turkish election campaigns, including that of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP). At the time, however, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed his disgruntlement at an alleged “robot lobby” misleading the public.
“For just the past four months, we have been able to push any hashtag up to the TT lists with even less effort, but Twitter has imposed restrictions to prevent this,” Güzey said.
“Twitter could prevent us again, but we can develop new formulas with new software,” he added.