How a fact-checker went from zero to 84,000 Instagram followers in 8 months

Teyit’s Instagram presence looks like Vox and The Guardian had a baby. It’s beautiful.

And that’s the point.

“We looked at some Instagram accounts about news and how they use and reach their followers. Then we read some statistics about Instagram and how people like the post types,” said Burak Avşar, engagement editor at Teyit, in a Skype interview. “The Guardian’s feed, Vox’s feed — personally, I love their content.”

But Teyit, a Turkish fact-checking site with only 11 staffers, is new to the Instagram game. Its staff  created their account only eight months ago in a bid to appeal to younger audiences.

And so far, it’s worked.

Since Teyit launched its Instagram page in October, it has amassed more than 80,000 followers. According to an analytics document sent to Poynter, 37% of those followers are between the ages of 18 and 24.

For Teyit, that’s a first. Most of its web traffic trends older; only 8% of their readers are in the same demographic. But Turkish media habits also point to Instagram.

In a survey in January, Teyit found that nearly 68% of 1,500 participants said they preferred to get their news on Instagram over any other platform. Numbers from Statista rank Turkey as the sixth largest user base for the platform.

Instagram is reducing the reach of posts debunked by fact-checkers

“We found that many people are using Instagram to read news … it’s bigger than Facebook and Twitter — that was really shocking to us,” Avşar said. “That data showed that we have to make our Instagram publication bigger.”

With the audience engagement cliche “meeting readers where they are” in mind, Teyit started creating content specifically for its growing Instagram following. Here’s what it’s doing:

  • Publishing videos with in-depth analyses of misinformation and false claims
  • Offering fact-checking tips for news consumers in the feed, stories and highlights
  • Producing charts and quote cards for visual variety

Those things are hardly revolutionary. Fact-checkers have long used Instagram to engage their audience, from Maldito Bulo superimposing its fact checks over bogus social posts to (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact producing stories around specific topics, such as healthcare.

What distinguishes Teyit from most other fact-checkers is the speed with which it built its Instagram audience. Avşar attributed that fact in part to the consumption preferences of Turks and in part to where social media users tend to see the most misinformation.

“After we opened an Instagram account, many people started to send suspicious news via that platform,” he said. “We take daily approximately 40 suspicious news items from followers.”

Teyit also fields tips on a variety of other platforms, including email, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. But Avşar said that, even when his team receives a tip off Instagram, it inevitably involves a link to the platform.

Aside from its popularity in Turkey, Instagram has undoubtedly become a major source for misinformation — particularly in the form of memes or out-of-context media. And Teyit wants to invest more resources in fact-checking that.

Misinformation doesn’t have to be altered to go viral

“We’ll build a team, maybe, for Instagram to take their notifications for fact-checking,” Avşar said. “And next month, I and (one) other colleague will start to start making a bigger operation in Instagram.”

That new Instagram-focused team comes alongside a website overhaul for Teyit, which is trying to become a more community-focused fact-checking site. Avşar said that means involving readers in the development and research of fact-check ideas, similar to how projects like Metafact draw from a slate of academic experts to fact-checker reader-submitted claims.

Another audience-focused development Teyit is exploring: a membership program.

“We made a poll on Instagram (asking), if we created membership program, would you support it?” he said. “The data shows that more than 90% of our followers would join that membership program.”

Some fact-checking sites have similar programs wherein readers pay a certain amount of money for access to exclusive benefits. At PolitiFact, so-called Truth Squad members can even listen in on meetings where editors decide fact-check ratings. Snopes announced in April that it was exploring a similar membership program.

But that kind of thing is further down the line, Avşar said. For now, Teyit is focused on creating a robust Instagram presence to cultivate a larger, more diverse audience. Because someday it may pay off.

“We don’t want to just publish true things — you seem like a judge,” he said. “We want to fact-check with our community. They can send their files, they can send the evidence and they can maybe communicate with our editors to build a story about fact-checking.”

“We want to let them in to join the stories.”

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