In the evening Turkey’s most significant election in two decades, Can Semercioglu went to bed early. Semerçoğlu has worked for Teyit, Turkey’s largest independent fact-checking group, for the past seven years, but that Sunday, May 14, was surprisingly one of the quietest nights he can remember at the organization.

Before the vote, opinion polls showed incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan losing support amid devastating earthquakes in southeastern Turkey that have killed nearly 60,000 people and economic hardship. However, he managed to get just under 50 percent of the vote. His main opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who heads the Millet Alliance group of opposition parties, received about 45 percent, meaning they will face off in a runoff scheduled for May 28.

“We didn’t have much work that night because people were talking about the results,” Semerjoglu says. “Opposition supporters were sad, Erdogan supporters were happy, and that’s what everyone was mostly discussing on social media.”

It was a rare moment of respite. The days leading up to and following the vote, as the second round approached, were tense in Teyit, whose name translates as confirmation or verification. The morning after the election, reports of stolen votes, missing ballots and other discrepancies — most of which turned out to be false or exaggerated — flooded social media. Semerçoğlu says his colleagues’ working hours have doubled since early March, when Erdogan announced the election date. This election cycle has been marred by a flood of misinformation and disinformation on social media, compounded by a media environment that, after years of government pressure, has been accused of systematic bias against the incumbent. This has intensified as Erdogan’s administration struggles to hold on to power.

“We have been working 24/7 for a very long time. This election was dominated by misleading information about the backgrounds and claims of politicians. We often encountered decontextualized statements, distortions, manipulations and cheap fakes,” says Semerjoglu. But it was not a surprise. And, he says. “We’re seeing a similar flow in the second round.”

The work of fact-checkers was complicated by the desire of candidates — from the government and the opposition — to use manipulated materials in their campaign campaigns. On May 1, the small Islamist news outlet Yeni Akit published a fake video purporting to show the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an organization designated as a terrorist group by Turkey and the US, supporting Kilicdaroglu. On May 7, the same video was shown during one of Erdogan’s election rallies.

“It was surprising that Erdogan showed a falsified video showing Milet Alliance candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu side by side with PKK militants at rallies. It was clearly a manipulated video, but it was widely shared and accepted by the public,” Semerjoglu says, adding that although Teyit debunked it, “it was quite effective.”

The video was widely distributed and appeared in the search results of the opposition candidate.

“When Internet users turned to Google that day to search for Kılıçdaroğlu, fake news was one of the algorithm’s top suggestions,” says Emre Kizilkaya, a researcher and editor-in-chief of the non-profit journalism website Kizilkaya says his research found that Google results are the primary source of news for Turkish consumers, “who generally lack strong loyalty to specific news brands.” In the run-up to the election, he says, Google results disproportionately favored media outlets that were friendly to the president.

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