Islamists across Turkey are taking to Twitter to protest against the closure of several fundamentalist Facebook groups and pages. Conservative Turks, who represent a swelling segment of Turkish society, pushed back against the censorship and called again on Sunday for a national social media service to replace Facebook that wouldn’t be controlled by “American infidels.”

Among the closed pages is a group with 1.8 million members called “Islam is the only religion in the sight of Allah,” reflecting increasing sentiment against Christians and Jews in Turkey.

The Ayyildiz Tim hacking group often evokes nationalist and neo-Ottoman sentiment

Other closed groups are believed to be associated with Ay Yıldız Tim – literally the Star and Crescent Squad – a poster child of Turkey’s irregular army of digital attackers. The group enjoys broad support across AK Party and MHP political lines and has coordinated offensives to hack social media accounts of perceived enemies of the leadership.

“Censorship on Facebook”

The trending hashtag #FacebooktaSansür Censorship on Facebook – has become a focal point for demands that Turkey should block the Facebook website and extend plans to develop domestic replacements for popular internet services. It is not yet known whether Facebook closed the pages by its own accord or whether legal takedown orders were issued.

Support for a conservative Islamic leadership has soared following a failed military coup mid-2016. President Erdogan and key figures in the ruling AK Party blame the West and its support for a group labelled “FETO” which was allegedly behind the abortive coup, ongoing terror attacks and the country’s deepening economic crisis.

25,000 applicants for Turkey’s digital army

In December Turkey’s government announced plans to hire and train up to 25,000 hackers to enforce national values and morality and develop an offensive cyber-warfare capability. Online campaigns, allegedly state-funded, have been in use for some time to target opposition voices.

The strengthened information warfare capability is believed to be central part of Erdogan’s campaign platform as he seeks to win an April referendum that will curtail the influence of parliament and give him executive powers to run the country.

Alleged members of the socialist hacking team Redhack were apprehended and imprisoned earlier this month, along with writers who reported on their activities. Over a hundred journalists are jailed in Turkey, which is among the world’s leading censors of online content.

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