How powerful can a fact check about an undersea tunnel be? Hear from Batuhan Ersun, in Turkey 

August 12, 2019
Category: Uncategorized

“I’ve learned that we can make huge political actors talk about our work.” This is Batuhan Ersun, 29, on a Skype call last Friday. This 29-year-old Turkish fact-checker has been the executive director at Doğruluk Payı since February and is now considered a rising star in the community.

Ersun started to work at Doğruluk Payı as an intern five years ago. At the beginning of 2019, when Baybars Orsek left to become the director of the International Fact-Checking Network, Ersun began to lead a team of about 12 fact-checkers in Istanbul.

The power to influence the political agenda seems to be in Ersun’s daily life. He comes from a political science background and lives in a country where censorship plays a role and journalists can be jailed. In the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, a ranking kept by Reporters Without Borders to point countries with liberty issues, Turkey is No. 157 in a list of 179 nations. But Ersun isn’t afraid of pushing democratic agendas.

Two years ago, Doğruluk Payı fact-checked then Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s statement about the cost of an undersea tunnel he was opening in Istanbul to connect the European and Asian sides of the city. 

In his speech, Yildirim said it was the deepest undersea tunnel ever built. Doğruluk Payı showed facts proving he was wrong — and went beyond.

“We showed that the tunnel was also overly expensive,” said Batuhan. “We compared the price tags for even bigger and more complex projects around the world, and showed that those projects were much cheaper.”

According to Ersun, when Doğruluk Payı published this fact-check on Facebook, the organization had around 70,000 followers. In a few days and with a $200 paid promotion, the story accumulated 1.9 million impressions on Facebook and quickly helped grow the organization’s followers. Public opinion jumped into the discussion. Yildirim had to deal with it and Doğruluk Payı even got emails from contractors asking them to remove the fact check from the internet because the article was being well positioned in Google searches and interfering in their interests. Ersun and his team stood by the facts and didn’t make a move.

“This case showed us that if you put the right content at the right time, then you are unstoppable.”