How Turkey’s largest fact-checking group tackles disinformation

Istanbul, Turkey – Every day, Emre İlkan Saklica scrolls by means of limitless social media feeds, delving into the most recent developments and looking by means of information reviews, with only one aim: debunk false claims.

Saklica is head of editorial at Teyit, Turkey’s largest impartial fact-checking organisation. For greater than 5 years, Teyit has been utilizing quite a lot of channels to combat false data within the nation’s public discourse – not simply what’s perpetuated publicly on social or conventional media but in addition in closed networks akin to discussion groups in apps like WhatsApp.

“Our biggest helpers are our followers,” mentioned Saklica. “They are sometimes not sure about the accuracy of the information they encounter on the internet and they send us some links.”

Saklica and his colleagues undergo these ideas from the general public, together with what’s being mentioned within the information. What must be reality checked is then prioritised, primarily based on how widespread and vital the declare is, in addition to its urgency and whether or not it will probably really be verified.

“Sometimes you can get results in just a few seconds,” mentioned Saklica, calling Turkey’s disinformation and misinformation downside “very big”.

‘Major problem’

Turkish authorities already use quite a lot of strategies to deal with disinformation on social media, together with present legal guidelines criminalising defamation of officers. Dozens of Twitter customers have been investigated final month, for example, after police mentioned they have been behind false trending reviews on social media saying President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had died.

Earlier this month, Erdogan instructed attendees of a global convention meant to develop a technique for countering disinformation that his nation was engaged on new measures to curb what he mentioned was an alarming unfold of disinformation by means of social media, calling it “a threat to democracy”.

“We are trying to protect our people, especially the vulnerable sectors of our society, against lies and disinformation, without compromising our citizens’ right to receive accurate and impartial information,” he mentioned.

His feedback on the Istanbul summit got here as Turkish lawmakers are contemplating new laws that may criminalise spreading disinformation.

Some critics, nonetheless, have expressed concern over the potential scope of the brand new measures.

“Disinformation, first of all, is a major problem not just in Turkey but globally,” mentioned Yaman Akdeniz, an educational and co-founder of the Turkish cyber rights group Freedom of Expression Association. “But what the [Turkish] government refers to as disinformation is not necessarily regarded as disinformation elsewhere,” he added.

Akdeniz mentioned Ankara’s “main concern” with disinformation is what is claimed on social media, noting that residents are more and more turning to such platforms to debate a number of points, akin to this yr’s response the summer season forest fires and worth will increase. “All of that turned into major criticism towards the government machinery in Turkey, and that criticism was expressed primarily through the social media platforms.”

Turkish regulation permits a number of presidency departments to ask for the blocking or elimination of on-line content material, for causes together with obscenity, the safety of public order, nationwide safety, defamation of presidency officers and prevention of “terrorism”.

According to a report by the Freedom of Expression Association, which tracks how these legal guidelines are used, on the finish of 2020, greater than 467,000 web sites have been blocked within the nation, together with nearly 60,000 that have been added to the organisation’s checklist of blocked websites that yr. Also in 2020, a brand new regulation required the principle social media platforms like Twitter, TikTok and Facebook to arrange workplaces contained in the nation, and held them doubtlessly liable in the event that they fail to adjust to native court docket judgements.

Changing data ecosystem

Teyit’s Saklica mentioned the difficulty of disinformation isn’t linked simply with opposition events, however the whole political spectrum. “All of the political parties have problems with this situation,” he famous. Instead of criminalising disinformation, Saklica mentioned there wanted to be an enchancment within the public’s capacity to parse data themselves – what he calls altering the “information ecosystem”.

Teyit has some 25 employees and is funded by grants from native and worldwide non-profits, in addition to social firms akin to Facebook and TikTok, which make use of the group as third social gathering reality checkers within the nation.

Much of its work offers with weird, simply debunked claims that someway make it to the highest of Turkey’s social media platforms: Angela Merkel is Adolf Hitler’s daughter (false); NASA has introduced a large asteroid goes to crash into the Earth (additionally false).

But there are additionally different makes an attempt at manipulating narratives that require long-term consideration. Instead of tackling particular person bits of disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, or refugees, or the economic system, for example, Teyit has discovered it higher to attend and put together longer reviews on these sorts of matters to correctly clarify the context and motivations behind bigger disinformation campaigns.

Claims that contain satire, when corrected, usually immediate apologies from their perpetrators, Saklica mentioned. But relating to claims which have a political agenda behind them, such admissions not often emerge. “Sometimes people publish [claims] with political motivations, and even if they know it is not correct, they won’t change their idea. You know this is wrong, and you know he or she understands this is wrong.”

Still different efforts at debunking simply churn up extra conspiracy theories. Teyit reviews debunking conspiracy theories round COVID-19 vaccines, for example, have prompted these perpetuating the theories to flow into claims the organisation is working for billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates (false).

Building digital literacy

Daily debunking could also be Teyit’s bread and butter, however really fixing the disinformation downside in Turkey wants grassroots training, mentioned Kansu Ekin Tanca, who heads the organisation’s instructional programmes.

Handbooks for academics and fogeys, translated into Turkish or produced in-house by Teyit, clarify how one can spot misinformation, and the psychology of conspiracy theories. Video guides clarify how one can use instruments like reverse picture search to examine claims. Teyit has even partnered with native authorities, for example, utilizing tv screens on Istanbul’s metro system to indicate commuters fast movies debunking claims about COVID-19 vaccines.

Lockdowns and faculty closures in Turkey in the course of the pandemic additionally prompted the group to begin organising workshops for academics and fogeys, after they have been approached by them with particular considerations.

“One of the problems, for example, was when a teacher said something about the [COVID-19] disease, or the kind of prevention methods for coronavirus, students usually said this might be true, but my parents said this and this,” Tanca mentioned. “So teachers felt the need to empower students with the necessary tools so they can reach reliable sources themselves, and not depend on their parents or teachers.”

The most troublesome declare to dispel for Teyit, although, has been the concept solely sure persons are vulnerable to falling for misinformation. Each demographic has completely different vulnerabilities, Tanca mentioned.

The aged are likely to have a tougher time understanding memes or parodies on social media, however youthful individuals, Teyit has discovered, usually tend to fall for clickbait, or articles which have seemingly astounding headlines however no proof to again up these claims.

“Everyone can fall for misinformation,” she mentioned. “If we as individuals are aware of what kind of content, or what kind of emotions we are more susceptible to, then we can reflect on that and work on that.”

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