Turkish fact checker becomes target of disinformation

MANILA, Philippines – Just a month after being acquitted from charges accusing him of spreading “terrorist propaganda,” Mehmet Atakan Foça, founder of Turkish fact-checker Teyit.org, is under new attack.

Politician Sinan Oğan, a former member of parliament with the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, shared on August 3 on his official Twitter account an article that claims Foça is the son of Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the far-left Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)

The webpage Oğan shared is now inaccessible, but his tweet is still up. Oğan has over one million followers as of writing.

İlginç bir haber! Bir doğrulama sitesinin sahibinin PKK elebaşı Öcalan’ın oğlu olduğu iddia ediliyor! Bence teyit. org un bu iddiayı teyit etmesi gerekir! https://t.co/iYIwAgXBO8 — Sinan Oğan (@DrSinanOgan) August 3, 2019

The PKK is a far-left political organization formed in 1978 that espouses Kurdish nationalist ideals. It has been tagged by the Turkish government and the United States as a terrorist organization.

It is the most absurd thing I have ever seen in this field until today,” Foça said. “Beyond that, it is very dangerous for all of our team members.”

Started with a fact check

Oğan's claim came after Teyit.org published one fact check article that involves him.

On July 29, Teyit.org released a fact check of an image of a man holding a placard that says, “Türkler Defolsun (Turks get out)!" during a rally in Istanbul on July 27 protesting the decision of the Turkish government against Syrian refugees. 

In the article, Teyit.org pointed out that the photo of the placard that went viral on Facebook was incomplete. They explained that if the placard had been shown in full, the message about racism would not have been lost. 

The placard actually bore the photo too of Dutch politician Geert Wilders, with a quote attributed to him: "Turks get out!" He is known to be against Turkish migrants in the Netherlands.

The placard juxtaposed Wilders' photo and quote with that of Oğan and his words, “Suriyeliler Defolsun (Syrians get out)!" to show that the two politicians – one against the Turks, and the other against Syrians – were no different from each other.

A telling poster from the protest in support of Syrian refugees in Istanbul: Wilders: Turks out! Sinan Oğan: Syrians out! There is no difference! #Notoracism pic.twitter.com/6SlJcueN9G — Yusuf Sarfati (@y_sarfati) July 28, 2019

After Teyit.org published its fact check, Oğan denied that he ever said “Syrians get out.” The Turkish fact checker added Oğan's statement in its article but the politician challenged Teyit.org to further fact check the veracity of what was written on the placard.

At the same time, he continued to attack the organization in a series of social media posts, calling them biased, and spread the malicious claim about Foça.

Despite this, the almost two-year-old fact-checking organization has shown no signs of backing down.

“Politician Sinan Ogan is attacking at @teyitorg for a while as we often debunk claims about Syrian refugees living in Turkey. It's clear we piss him off a lot with our fact-checks on refugees but his bizarre and baseless claims about me and Teyit won't stop us from doing our job,” Foça tweeted on August 5.

Foça founded Teyit.org in 2016 as an independent fact-checking organization. It's one of the two Turkish verified signatories to the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN) and has been deemed compliant with IFCN's principles since 2017. (READ: Rappler now a member of the International Fact-Checking Network)

As verified by a third-party evaluator for the IFCN, Teyit.org classifies itself as a non-profit social enterprise that focuses on social impact. It has published fact checks on a variety of topics including elections, crisis situations involving the military, and health issues among others.

In its first year, Teyit.org had received a total of 7,628 messages, and more than half of these, or 3,820, were “reported doubtful contents.” The organization fact-checked more than 16% of these, while a huge chunk, or 62.5%, were unpublished due to lack of sufficient and/or reliable information and proof. The remaining were either archived or excluded. – Pauline Macaraeg/Rappler.com