Google favors pro-gov’t media over critical outlets in Turkey: report

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An International Press Institute (IPI) report has shown that news-related Google searches are much more likely to produce results from pro-government media outlets than independent ones in Turkey, where over 90 percent of conventional media outlets are controlled by the government.

Titled “IPI Turkey Digital Media Report: ‘The New Mainstream’ is Rising (And It Seeks Support),” the report released on March 3 is based on a study conducted by IPI Turkey National Committee Vice Chair Emre Kızılkaya and associate researcher Burak Ütücü.

The results of the study revealed that Google gave 90.6 percent of the top slots in its highest volume news-related searches to the media outlets controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), while independent media organizations in Turkey that are critical of the government were given only 8 percent.

Some 4,070 of the results that appeared on the “top stories” slot on the Google search page were from pro-government dailies Hürriyet, Milliyet and Sabah, the study found, while the remaining 358 slots were given to the critical Sözcü daily, the Halk TV news website and the Yeniçağ daily, with Sözcü given 356 slots and the two others only one top slot in thousands of news-related queries.

The search engine provides Turkey’s independent outlets with significantly lower visibility, despite their higher quality content and deeper public trust, broad digital reach, robust social media interactions and faster growth compared to the pro-government outlets in the country, the report said.

“The company’s algorithmic preferences in Turkey remain in stark contrast with its standards in other countries, such as the US, where users are presented with a significantly more diverse menu of news sources led by highly reliable outlets, as well as more local publishers,” the IPI noted.

Although Google News is said to have a different algorithm and a more diverse base compared to the news-related result pages on Google’s core search engine, the pro-government outlets still made up 73.8 percent of the results, with six among 182 news sources having more than 1,000 slots each — more visibility than the rest of the 178 outlets combined.

“Google has an awful impact on Turkey’s digital content ecosystem. Perhaps it is unintentional but they have become a source of manipulation that corrupts all digital metrics in the ‘news and media’ category. As a result, we have arrived at a point where we can’t produce refined competition data,” Sözcü’s Chief Digital Officer Erhan Acar was quoted in the report as saying.

Google also amplifies pro-government media outlets’ hate speech and disinformation against civil society figures, the report indicated, citing the appearance of articles targeting Osman Kavala, a businessperson and a rights defender who has been in prison since 2017.

The IPI report further showed that the digital reach of Turkey’s independent media — 33.5 million users — is catching up with the pro-government media’s 47.8 million users. “While the latter group’s reach has stalled recently, independent outlets continued to expand their digital user base rapidly,” the IPI said.

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