Fake news in Turkey: Hunting for truth in land of conspiracy

A composite image shows our correspondent Mark Lowen on the pages of tabloid-style papers, in Turkish

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The BBC’s Mark Lowen has himself been the topic of absurd allegations in Turkish media

A headscarved girl whose child was once kicked whilst she was once urinated on by way of anti-government demonstrators.

Veteran political activist Noam Chomsky championing President Erdogan in a newspaper interview.

Pictures of bloated corpses of Muslims in a river in Myanmar. A video appearing Turkish jets blowing up Kurdish opponents in Syria.

All had been compelling and widely-shared tales in Turkey. All had been totally false.

Turkey is a rustic the place reality and fiction are more and more arduous to tell apart, and the place knowledge is weaponised to additional divide a profoundly polarised society.

Why Turks are besieged by way of ‘pretend information’

It’s little marvel that Turkey ranks first in an inventory of nations the place other people whinge about totally made-up tales, in keeping with this 12 months’s Reuters Virtual Information Record.

Nearly part its other people – 49% – say they confronted “pretend information” within the week prior to the survey was once taken. In Germany, it’s only nine%.

On a daily basis brings new outlandish and unverified claims within the media.

That is fodder for a country hooked on conspiracy theories – the place a senior adviser to Mr Erdogan claimed the president’s enemies had been looking to kill him with telekinesis and that overseas TV cooks had been spies.

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This Turkish tale known as the BBC’s correspondent a “provocateur” despatched to hide a march involving Turkish opposition chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Inflammatory rhetoric pervades the media, 90% of which is estimated to be pro-government. This is as a result of opposition retailers had been incessantly close down, branded “terrorist propaganda”, or financially crippled.

Newspapers that continue to exist serve now not as fashions of journalism however as authorities mouthpieces, which have been just lately passed the leaks from the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. That led the sector to swallow what they published, reasonably than treating them with the standard warning.

Turkey is the sector’s greatest jailer of reporters, score 157 of 180 nations within the press freedom index of the watchdog Newshounds With out Borders.

Simply 38% right here agree with the scoop, the Reuters learn about displays.

How a web page debunked 500 pretend tales

Fertile floor, then, for Turkey’s first unbiased web page dedicated to fact-checking on-line subject matter. Teyit.org takes its title from the Turkish phrase for affirmation.

Based in 2016 by way of a tender journalist, Mehmet Atakan Foca, its group probes the authenticity of pictures and tales that flow into on-line.

Foca, who did an internship on the BBC Turkish provider, says they now get greater than 30 tip-offs an afternoon about suspicious-looking subject matter, and use plenty of core journalistic abilities and virtual generation to test them.

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The Teyit group have debunked loads of reports of their first two years

“To take on the issue of pretend information, it isn’t sufficient to put up articles about incorrect information,” he says. “We wish to train other people and provides them the gear to fortify their capability for verification.”

Over the last two years, Teyit has debunked 526 false tales. Many are political, the use of doctored pictures or false social media claims about politicians.

Others have much more severe penalties.

This tale is a part of a chain by way of the BBC on disinformation and faux information – an international drawback difficult the best way we proportion knowledge and understand the sector round us.

For extra discuss with www.bbc.co.united kingdom/beyondfakenews

When footage of 3 males had been revealed on-line and labelled as those that killed 39 other people in an assault on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub, Teyit traced the boys and disproved the allegations.

One of the crucial wrongly accused, Metehan Alim, instructed us a defamation case towards six media retailers is ongoing.

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Lots of Teyit’s debunked tales are political, or care for social problems

“Turks are fundamentalists with our ideals,” he instructed the BBC. “We wish to learn what we already consider. We withstand science or details. We consider in myths as an alternative.”

One of the crucial tales debunked by way of Teyit are world.

On the peak of the violence in Myanmar towards Rohingya Muslims, the Turkish finance minister tweeted footage that allegedly confirmed sufferers. Teyit found out they had been from somewhere else.

The Myanmar authorities officially complained and the minister was once pressured to delete the tweet.

Even former Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek, infamous for conspiracy theories, retracted a tweet appearing purportedly of flood injury to a street. It have been debunked by way of Teyit, and he even credited the fact-checking web page.

How I changed into a goal for pretend information

However I’m nonetheless looking ahead to Mr Gokcek to retract his unfounded declare that the BBC rented a lodge room overlooking Besiktas soccer stadium simply prior to it was once attacked by way of suicide bombers in 2016.

  • Blasts kill many close to Istanbul stadium

Supposedly, that allowed me to broadcast reside inside of mins – and recommended that we had been complicit or knew of it upfront.

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Media captionMark Lowen reported at the Besiktas bombing some 90 mins after the assault

The absurd allegation was once disproved by way of Teyit, appearing my first reside broadcast from our BBC workplace 90 mins after the assault and debunking a video that falsely translated my phrases.

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Teyit debunked the Besiktas allegations, appearing that the reside record got here from the BBC workplace

After 4 years in Turkey, I am being used to such baseless claims.

Professional-government dailies regularly allege I have been despatched from London as a provocateur to fan the flames of social unrest.

One wishes a thick pores and skin on this nation.

Upward thrust of the ‘pretend fact-checkers’

“Information literacy may be very low in Turkey,” says Mehmet Atakan Foca. “It is extra about propaganda. Other people reside in an echo chamber, accusing others of being terrorists or pro-government, growing false tales to fortify their evaluations.”

Even fact-checking itself is used as a device in a rustic riven by way of distrust and department.

One web page claims to be an unbiased verifier of reports, however is in truth run by way of a distinguished columnist for Sabah, the principle pro-government day-to-day, and her husband. As an alternative of authenticating resources or pictures, it pushes the federal government line, discrediting perceived grievance of President Erdogan.

“There’s no freedom of knowledge in Turkey”, Mr Foca says, “so pretend fact-checking web pages are used as propaganda.”

“They are some other weapon of presidency”, he provides.

Controlling knowledge, peddling false tales, fuelling the “us and them” narrative: those are all ways of authoritarian governments.

They’re all primary demanding situations for the fact-checkers aiming to move past pretend information.

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