May 12, 2020

This case study is part of Resilience Reports, a series from the European Journalism Centre about how news organizations across Europe are adjusting their daily operations and business strategies as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. 

In a nutshell: Turkish fact-organization Teyit created a COVID-19 newsletter and released fact-checking videos on social media and on a Turkish television channel to debunk myths about the virus.

Turkish media had enough problems before the coronavirus hit in early March. Political polarization, the routine arrest of journalists and the takeover of mainstream media by pro-government allies made journalists’ lives difficult, especially the few working for independent outlets.

That is the context in which fact-checking nonprofit organization Teyit — which translates as ‘confirmation’ — has been working in during the COVID-19 crisis. Founded in October 2016 by journalist Mehmet Atakan Foça, it debunks misinformation and conducts investigations into disinformation campaigns that are gaining traction online. The 17-strong team of full-time journalists targets a younger audience of Turkish news consumers, producing native content specifically tailored for audiences on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. It is part of the International Fact-Checking Network and one of First Draft News’ partners.

Here, Tara Kelly outlines the work Teyit has been doing over the last three months to cover the pandemic.

What is Teyit?

  • As a non-profit organization, Teyit is funded by the European Commission, embassies, nongovernmental organizations as well as reader donations. The bulk of its revenue comes from its work as a partner of Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program.
  • Teyit is one of the few independent media organizations doing this kind of verification work in the country. Estimates suggest pro-government outlets represent 90% of Turkey’s newspaper circulation.
  • The team debunks misinformation and conducts investigations into disinformation campaigns. Teyit produces native content specifically tailored for audiences on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. This includes a weekly fact-checking show just for Instagram Stories called “You’re Debunked,” as well as a YouTube channel with mini-doc series and shows.
  • In October 2019, Teyit began showing short videos on Istanbul’s public transportation, reaching four million people each day. Since early 2020, they’ve been using nearly 8,000 screens across the city to spread factual information about the pandemic.

How did Teyit cover the COVID-19 crisis?

  • Teyit began reporting on the virus in early February, more than a month before the pandemic hit Turkey on March 11. The team understood early on that the virus would dominate news coverage for the year. They acted early by publishing a YouTube video called 10 myths of coronavirus. Released on Feb. 5, it went viral and has been viewed over 368,000 times to date.
  • Television is a popular and important medium among Turks. The average person watches 3.5 hours of television per day, according to the Supreme Board of Radio and Television, while research conducted by Reuters Institute in 2018 showed 48% of Turks identify television as their main news source. Teyit became concerned about the way Turkish television channels were allowing guests to cite bogus claims on air. For example, one claimed that ‘Turkish genes’ provide immunity against COVID-19 while another argued that the most effective remedy for the disease is sheep’s head soup. The team subsequently decided to expand into television.
  • At the beginning of April, Habertürk, one of Turkey’s three biggest news channels, agreed to run Teyit’s one-minute video explainers for free. The short clips debunk the most widely circulated myths about the outbreak and highlight practical fact-checking tips. With seven new videos per week, they now air several times a day, allowing Teyit to engage with a TV audience who may be more vulnerable to misinformation.
  • On March 5, Teyit launched a COVID-19 Post newsletter with tips and information about mental health and things to do during the lockdown. Every week, a freelance designer and a different Teyit editor or writer produce the newsletter based on their area of expertise. At the start, Teyit sent it out twice a week, but after securing funding from 50 supporters, they decided to send it three times a week — every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Over the past two months, the newsletter has grown to 12,000 subscribers with a 36.7% open rate.
  • Teyit’s audience responded to the COVID-19 Post newsletter with encouraging messages, offering voluntary help based on their skills. Some offered to help with their investigations while others began editing pieces, producing graphics and creating audio clips for Teyit’s mini-docs and fact-checking shows. They even recorded songs from their homes to boost the team’s mood.
  • Every week, one of Teyit’s editors organizes a webinar over Zoom for COVID-19 Post newsletter subscribers. They cover everything from fact-checking tips to media consumption habits during the lockdown to digital security. So far, they’ve organized six webinars, which almost 500 people have attended. The webinars aim to help editors build a relationship with COVID-19 Post newsletter subscribers and turn them into loyal members.
  • With WhatsApp serving as a potential source for the spread of misinformation in Turkey, Teyit also designed a set of colorful stickers for people to share with friends and family. At first, the team thought they’d send them to those who requested them via Teyit’s WhatsApp channel. Overwhelmed with requests, they decided to make them available online for anyone to download.

(Courtesy: Teyit)

  • In December 2019, they ran a successful community crowdsourced campaign to fund the fact-checking of an anti-vaccination bestseller book filled with misinformation. The campaign generated financial contributions from 234 readers. This experience helped them to understand how best to engage directly with their community during COVID-19.
  • Teyit has also seen significant social media growth as a result of their native storytelling strategies. In March, Teyit’s Twitter following jumped by almost 20%. While the growth slowed in April, the numbers were still significantly higher than in previous months.
  • In March 2020, Teyit reached a record-high for pageviews since its launch. Compared to February, pageviews were up 246%, nearing one million. They also received more financial contributions from readers in the past month than in the past 3 1/2 years.

How has COVID-19 changed the future of Teyit?

  • In June 2020, Teyit will launch a new community-powered fact-checking platform with gamification features to train members in fact-checking and investigations. This will allow users to contribute to investigations and be a part of the fact-checking and investigative experience. Such a platform will also allow Teyit to ramp up the number of fact-checks and investigations to make more of an impact.
  • Alongside the new community platform, Teyit will launch two membership programs:
  • The first will be a free program called the “Open Office.” Readers who sign up will be able to earn points by watching videos, reading articles and taking quizzes to learn more about the fact-checking tools and methods Teyit uses. As they make progress with the online training, users will collect points, join Teyit’s investigations and eventually become “Sherlock” members.
  • The second membership program is called “Curiosity Club” and is for paying members. Editors will produce exclusive newsletters and events for these members. “Sherlock” members will also be able to join for free.
  • Given the success of the mini-video explainers on Istanbul’s public transportation, Teyit is now planning to expand this project — named “all roads lead to truth” — to other big cities, including Ankara, İzmir and Bursa.
  • Teyit believes capturing Turkish television viewers has never been more important in their fight against misinformation. The team plans to extend the successful partnership with Habertürk into a longer-form fact-checking program after the pandemic.

What has Teyit learned so far?

Şükrü Oktay Kılıç, digital content strategist, Teyit

“As a team of young journalists, fact-checkers, developers, filmmakers and graphic artists, we’re really dedicated to transforming the news media landscape in Turkey. Ownership structures and high-level reliance on advertising as the main source of revenue have historically made Turkish-language media vulnerable to any kind of interference from the political class. We want to build an independent and sustainable model where we feel responsible only for our readers. So this is only possible if a large enough audience supports our mission and vision. From COVID-19 experience, we learnt that when we go to our readers with good pitches, they not only listen but also respond, they show interest in building a much better journalistic model with us, they want to be part of this. So going forward, we’ll build upon this momentum.”

This case study was produced with support from Evens Foundation. It was originally published by the European Journalism Centre on Medium and is published here under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license. The Poynter Institute is also the fiscal sponsor of the Verification Handbook.

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