Google before posting: How to debunk misinformation

Google before posting: How to debunk misinformation

Emrah Güler
Google before posting: How to debunk misinformation A fourteen-year-old paper collector dead at last week’s blast in the capital city Ankara. Minister of Education Nabi Yalçın resigning after the blast. A list of the attacks the terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), discovered thanks to a group of hackers. Two shopping malls evacuated after bomb threats. These are some of the news shared on social media, some by credible news outlets, in the aftermath of the Ankara blast. And they have all been debunked as misinformation.

You can find these among a list of 16 news pieces that have been shared widely and found to be false on journalist Mehmet Atakan Foça’s website, Foça is a news journalist, a self-defined mobile journalist, a reliable source on Twitter, especially with news, photos and videos he shares from mass protests through his account @matakanfoca to more than 10 thousand followers.

Photo by Çağrı Öner

Google before posting: How to debunk misinformation Foça also joins meetings, trains and shares information on digital verification technics, data journalism, social media and practices of searching the web for journalists through his website. Hürriyet Daily News talked to Foça on the misinformation spread in the aftermath of the Ankara blast and this past weekend’s Istanbul blast, as well as on digital verification, and the impact of social media over news journalism.

‘Misinformation snowballs during crises’

When do we need to be alert for misinformation, especially in social media? “Whenever there is a trending subject in social media, then you will definitely find misinformation,” said Foça. “Sometimes it’s about football, which player transferred and how much he was offered; at other times, it’s about a TV show, fake spoilers and unfounded news of set
romance.” Social crises offer the biggest test according to Foça, “The sharing of information increases immensely during a crisis or when there is collective emotional outpour. This, in turn, brings along misinformation.”

“Every internet user now has a responsibility,” cautions Foça. “Each user has to think of the possible consequences of sharing a specific information he/she believes to be true, and of how it can impact others.” We live in a different world now, when it was “think before speaking,” now it’s “Google before posting.” It might be harmless to share videos of cats or puppies on social media, “but we need to do a research before sharing information that can have an impact on others’ lives on a psychological or physical level,” he adds.
Foça cites a typical example, and the possible motivation behind the snowballing of misinformation. The brutal death of 20-year-old Özgecan Aslan by a minibus driver had served as a tipping point, with violence against women becoming a hot topic across the country last year. Foça said, “Many will remember the alleged murderer Fatih Gökçe’s selfie, with a smile plastered across his face, at the courthouse shared from his Facebook account.”

“The photo in question was actually taken couple of months before the murder,” said Foça. “The collective emotional outpour was so immense, and trust in the justice system was at a rock bottom level, that people wanted to believe that the photo was taken recently. It was as if, ‘the more we are able to increase the scale of the disaster, then the subsequent reaction will grow proportionately.’”

Verification Handbook, in English and Turkish

In the immediate aftermath of the suicide attack in Istanbul’s busy Istiklal Avenue March 19, two tweets sent from Foça’s account show the complicity of major media outlets in spreading misinformation. The screenshots of the tweets sent from the Islamist daily Yeni Akit’s Twitter account showing conflicting information: one announcing another blast in Istanbul’s Nişantaşı in very certain terms, the other condemning harshly those spreading misinformation on a blast that never happened in Nişantaşı.

How do the journalists, as well as regular internet users, verify information then? “While the tools for verification are the same for both journalists and non-journalists, journalists need to be more thorough, using more advanced tools,” said Foça. “A journalist shouldn’t rush to become the first person to give the news, but strive to give the correct news. The need to become the first generally leads journalists to forego verifying the information.” That said, “Google search is a very simple tool that should be used by everyone.”

There is a new resource for journalists and aid responders, providing step-by-step guidelines for using user-generated content during emergencies: the European Journalism Centre’s “Verification Handbook: A definitive guide to verifying digital content for emergency coverage.” The handbook is edited by Craig Silverman and led by Korsan Parti Hareketi (Pirate Party Movement), whike Atakan Foça has edited the Turkish version. 

“You will find various case studies, and articles on how we can verify photos, videos, people and websites in the Verification Handbook,” said Foça. “Everyone who uses the Internet can make use of the book.”

Downloadable versions are available in English, Turkish, and seven other languages at Keep the guide handy and Google before posting.