February 25, 2020

Turkey is witnessing a disturbing anti-vaccination campaign. And the International Fact-Checking Network is supporting local fact-checkers in their open fight against it.

A crowdfunded project launched by Teyit in December gathered donations from 234 people in one month and will now receive $3,191 from the IFCN to become more visible.

Teyit is the first winner of the 2020 IFCN’s Crowdfunding Match Program, but other fact-checking organizations may apply until April.

This year, the IFCN still has up to $25,000 in contributions made to crowdfunding campaigns run by fact-checking initiatives around the world. Since 2017, five organizations have been awarded through this initiative.

Teyit x the ‘Black Box’

Official Turkish data shows that, for the last seven years, the number of families who decided to stop vaccinating their children rose from 183 to 23,000. It also indicates that the total number of measle cases is on the rise. In the first nine months of 2019, the country registered 2,666 cases, 5.2 times higher than what was observed in the same period in the previous year.

Taking advantage of the growing misinformation scenario, in November, a well-known journalist named Soner Yalçın — known for being ODA TV’s co-founder and editor (one of the most followed news portals in Turkey) — published a controversial book.

“Black Box” became an instant bestseller for “revealing some real stories behind the pharmaceutical industry and the harmful effect of vaccines.” Yalçın also spent a few pages explaining the “hidden relationship between modern medicine and imperialism,” the “ineffectiveness of antidepressants” and how really effective homeopathy can be for certain diseases.

Teyit’s team thought the book needed to be fact-checked and opened a crowdfunding campaign. On Jan. 15, they celebrated the fact that the project,”Salgın var! Yanlış bilgiye karşı aşı olun!” (“Stop the Epidemic: Vaccinate against misinformation”), had received 19,150 Turkish Liras ($3,191), from 234 people, and started working.

First the fact-checking team read “Black Box” with “fact-checkers’ eyes” and selected 200 claims they thought deserved attention. Some of them weren’t considered verifiable, under Teyit’s methodology, so the group ended publishing a total of 50 articles that contain fact-checks and in-depth analyses.

Selin Yıldız, Teyit’s project assistant, told the IFCN that one of their most important findings in the process was the fact that a 600-page book, written by a notable journalist, actually “contains a lot of plagiarism and has a serious scientific source problem.”

“The author copied and pasted the information from different sources as he wished,” she said.

While planning the crowdfunding campaign, Mehmet Atakan Foca, Teyit’s founding director, said he knew he had to find the right supporters.

“The campaign was supposed to be ensured by a group of people who, like us, care about data. We couldn’t aim to mobilize people who believe conspiracy theories because there is no way we could convince them.”

To reach the right supporters, Teyit contacted its “community ambassadors” — people who have enough potential to reach others on WhatsApp groups — and spent time on the phone, suggesting others to share the link to their campaign in private channels. They strongly recommended not using Twitter, since it is an open platform that could call attention to anti-vaccination followers.

“We organized a New Year’s event at our Ankara office and asked our community to get as many supporters as they could in one hour. So we reached 50 percent of the target amount on the fifth day of the campaign,” said Foca.

Teyit is now working on the website that will show all the results and deliver rewards for supporters — a special newsletter created just for them.

Foca said he knows a lot of hate is around the corner.

“We will be lynched again,” he said. “The conspiracy theorists will throw rocks at our heads. But we are sure that our community is now walking with us while we do our best to tackle this problem. Thanks to the IFCN for the extra support that helped us cover the freelancers who are helping us with newsletters and articles, besides the microsite. It will make everything more comprehensive.”

* Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.

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Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
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