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Google policies in Turkey favor pro-gov’t media, spread misinformation: report

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Google’s search algorithms and knowledge panels display a discernible bias, favoring media outlets that support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over independent sources, prominent Turkish fact-checking organization Teyit said in a recent report, highlighting significant concerns surrounding the tech giant’s role in shaping the information landscape in the country.

In the report published Wednesday, Teyit, which is affiliated with the European Fact-Checking Standards Network (EFCSN) and the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), scrutinizes Google’s influence over the Turkish media sector, citing a 2021 report by the International Press Institute (IPI) and a 2023 report by the Journo News Monitor.

The report underlines issues that range from the spread of misinformation through Google’s knowledge panels to Google’s apparent lack of commitment to underrepresented news outlets.

The report indicates that while Google holds a dominant role in access to information, there is a skew towards government-aligned sources in the visibility the search engine provides, pointing to concerns about impeding the right to access unbiased information.

One of the primary concerns highlighted is Google’s knowledge panels’ potential to disseminate misinformation. These panels, generated automatically, often lack mechanisms to ensure the accuracy of the information presented. In an era where accurate information is paramount, such oversights can be weaponized for manipulative agendas, the report says.

Citing the IPI reports, Teyit says Google’s algorithms favor pro-government media outlets in Turkey, compromising diverse perspectives.

Teyit cites a report by ProPublica indicating that a staggering 73 percent of websites identified as disseminating misinformation in Turkey continue to monetize their content via Google ads, while only 13 percent of unreliable English-language sites receive Google ads, demonstrating how non-English content is ignored in preventing misinformation.

Another concerning revelation in the report concerns Google’s Claim Review tool, which, while designed to prioritize verified articles, often fails to push fact-checked content to the forefront in Turkey. The system is susceptible to SEO manipulation, meaning articles from sources spreading false information can still top search results.

Internationally, Google News has set up dedicated fact-check sections to assist users in discerning verified information. However, Teyit says this feature remains conspicuously absent in Turkey. Given Google’s significant role in the Turkish information landscape, the report suggests that users in Turkey should also have access to these fact-checking highlights, similar to practices in the US and other countries.

Furthermore, Google’s transparency reports for political ads, which detail advertiser information, budgets and other critical data, are not applied consistently in Turkey, the report highlights. The absence of these transparency reports hinders public insight into political ad expenditures and motivations, according to Teyit.

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