Turkey’s deepfake-influenced election spells trouble

May 15, 2023, 6:07 PM UTC
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Yesterday’s election in Turkey was momentous for a variety of reasons, with major implications for regional geopolitics and the domestic economy. But historians will remember these polls for one thing in particular: the role of tech-powered disinformation.

Just days before the Sunday election, one of the best-known opposition candidates, Muharrem İnce, pulled out. An alleged sex tape had been circulating on social media and he claimed his appearance in it was the result of deepfake technology; nonetheless, he withdrew from the contest.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition candidate, blamed Russia for this and other disinformation doing the rounds in the run-up to the election. “Get your hands off the Turkish state,” he tweeted in Moscow’s direction while telling Reuters he had evidence of Russia’s involvement. (Russian President Vladimir Putin and incumbent Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have a complex but generally friendly relationship, and Erdoğan’s tendency to play a divisive role within NATO suits Putin just fine in the context of his war on Ukraine.)

What difference did İnce’s departure make to the election result? It’s hard to tell. He was polling at less than 2% and, as a longstanding rival of Erdoğan—İnce was the main opposition candidate in the 2018 elections—those votes probably went to Kılıçdaroğlu. 

But given that Erdoğan only barely failed to clear the 50% threshold that would have avoided the run-off that will now take place in a couple weeks—he got 49.5% to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 44.9%—this election was one where every percentage point mattered.

And the alleged İnce deepfake was not the only one out there. The fact-checking site Teyit (think Turkish Snopes) has debunked many such pieces of disinformation and one of them even got brandished by Erdoğan himself—at a rally, the president showed his supporters a Kılıçdaroğlu campaign video that had been modified to depict members of the banned PKK terrorist organization singing the opposition party’s song. Somewhat less damningly, a Twitter user claimed to have trained an A.I. on Kılıçdaroğlu’s voice and used it to generate a version of his campaign speech delivered in flawless English.

Faked photos and even videos have been around for a while, but thanks to A.I. they are so much easier to make now, in a form that convinces many of those who aren’t paying close attention—which is most people. Soon, they will be incredibly simple to generate at a quality level that will fool even more voters. From now on, as Fortune reported recently, this will be a feature of most elections, including next year’s U.S. presidential election, and I think it’s fair to say we aren’t ready.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions to Data Sheet? Drop a line here.

David Meyer

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman. 


The fearless attitude of Twitter’s new CEO. Linda Yaccarino, the ad executive at NBC who is taking Elon Musk’s role at Twitter is a “tough” “Long Island lady” who faces a tall order of luring back advertisers who have fled the social media platform. But her background handling demanding clients and leading high-stakes industry battles over ad measurements could be a major boost. Fortune spoke to people who have worked closely with Yaccarino, and they say she might be the right balance for Musk if she can adjust to the “gutter brawling content” on Twitter that’s unlike the glitz she’s been accustomed to.

Big Tech companies are scaling back internship programs. Internships have provided a pipeline to develop new talent and bring much-needed diversity to the ranks of big tech companies. But amid layoffs and hiring freezes, college students are also facing the impact of tech’s cost-cutting measures, and multiple companies are hiring fewer interns this summer. Of the 10 large-cap tech companies that Fortune reached out to, none said they were increasing the size of their summer internship classes this year. Some, like Alphabet and Amazon, have cut their class sizes, and the shift has career coaches at universities coaxing students through concerns that they may not get the experience they had hoped to add to their résumés.

EU regulators give the go-ahead on Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard deal. Weeks after U.K. antitrust regulators blocked Microsoft’s $68.7 billion deal to acquire Activision Blizzard, the deal has been approved by EU regulators. The European Commission said the acquisition could harm competition involving the distribution of PC and console games through cloud gaming services, but that Microsoft has addressed the concerns through 10-year licensing deals it has offered to rival clouding gaming services. The EU decision should give Microsoft and Activision-Blizzard some welcome ammo as its appeal with U.K. regulators moves forward.



—The penguin population in the Norwegian dependency of Bouvet Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. Wired reports that Google has made its generative A.I. service available on the bird-inhabited volcano island and to other similarly desolate territories of European countries, even though the 450 million people living in the continental European Union still can’t access Bard.


Google’s Sundar Pichai thinks A.I. will spur ‘big societal labor market disruptions’ but also make professions better, by Prarthana Prakash

A.I. ‘controls humanity’ in the worst-case scenario but will probably just find us boring, says Stability AI CEO Emad Mostaque, by Steve Mollman

‘I’m copying his strategy’: Lyft’s CEO is poaching his turnaround plan from his former boss—Jeff Bezos, by Eleanor Pringle

I used ChatGPT to write a cover letter and pretty much fooled 3 experts—and an A.I. content detector, by Chloe Berger

Tesla owners ‘uniquely at the mercy’ of carmaker, says attorney in lawsuit alleging software updates drained or killed expensive batteries, by Steve Mollman


The newest TikTok trend. A recipe involving Fruit Roll-Ups spread on TikTok and now Israel faces a shortage. So, people are smuggling massive amounts of Fruit Roll-Ups, which can sell for $8 per snack. The imports from flyers might be over though, the New York Times reports. In late April, an American couple was caught trying to bring in almost 375 pounds of the snacks in their suitcases. The legal limit is around 11 pounds for a specific food product. Recently, the Israeli Tax Authority confiscated 661 pounds of Fruit Roll-Ups in one week alone and has sent an undercover unit to Ben Gurion Airport.

The recipe people are so desperate to make blew up after an influencer named Golnar Ghavami shared a video earlier this year wrapping a Fruit Roll-Up around a scoop of mango ice cream, garnering more than 14 million views.

This is the web version of Data Sheet, a daily newsletter on the business of tech. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet