#Thread 1: Why did we verify reports on Ara Güler’s death?

The doyenne photographer, Ara Güler struggled with diseases for a long time and occasionally received treatment before his death. News about his health status reflected in the press stirred editors of teyit.org on Wednesday night, October 17. We started to search the issue after seeing the headlines “Ara Güler passed away” published on numerous news sites and agencies like 10:40 p.m. In a little while, we learnt that failed heart of Güler started to beat with life-saving efforts of doctors and his treatment continued in intensive care.

Our conversations with the hospital officers and Güler’s assistant, Fatih Aslan took long due to distrust in sources as well as the obligation to verify multiple sources. Therefore, we first announced the precise information regarding living of Ara Güler on Twitter at 11:31 p.m. However, the news about passing of Ara Güler emerged again almost in a minute following our announcement.

We learnt with our verification steps that Ara Güler actually lost his life and could not be resurrected this time. We announced his passing via an update tweet at 11:56 p.m.

We reevaluated and reviewed this case because of its specific and unique aspect. Did we take the right decision? Did we disseminate wrong information while trying to verify it?

The following posts completely reflect the discussions initiated in Slack channel used by teyit.org team. Hereafter, we will publish our discussions on the decisions we took, in this format without any correction (except spelling errors) with the aim of achieving transparency in our editorial processes.

Atakan [Founder]: Dear friends, heart of Ara Güler had failed, but then he had been resurrected a few nights ago. Meanwhile we had taken action and proved that Ara Güler was in intensive care as news sites and agencies announced “Ara Güler passed away.” Nevertheless, Ara Güler actually lost his life at the moment of our announcement on Twitter. Although our tweet and verification hit the right notes, it became outdated in a few seconds. Soon, we announced the passing of Ara Güler with an update. How to approach to such cases? Did we do the right thing? Did we have to wait?

Burak [Engagement Editor]: Hello, I think we acted properly with regard to Ara Güler. All institutions and social media reported his passing when the said news was published. His heart stopped, but his resuscitation at that time made that information wrong. Unluckily, we heard the news that he actually passed away only one minute after he was taken to intensive care and we declared his living. Later, we shared the correct information. Güler might not pass away one minute later. Perhaps, he may still live today. Consequently, true information gains importance “at the moment.” In fact, verification does not come to nothing. Only, the need for update arises. The whole news media were uneasy about providing Yasemin İnceoğlu as reference. In my opinion, we acted as it should be, by verifying information from several sources. Perhaps, we may approach more cautiously in the future, but we will act in this way if we face with the same situation.

Screenshot from the teyit’s discussion in Slack

Atakan: I agree with Burak. We are responsible for reflecting the truth at a definite moment in time. It was wrong for all news media to announce the passing of Ara Güler even though he did not die at that moment. We are liable for correcting this mistake.

Sinan [Writer]: I think there is no problem with this situation. Bad luck is the passing of Ara Güler one minute later. We can make a decision on what to do in such a flash news at most. However, it seems impossible by its nature. Such things are ad hoc. Perhaps, we may be more cautious in the event of breaking news such as “He was taken to hospital/passed away etc.”, but it is unlikely to concretize this at that time.

Oktay [Digital Content Strategist]: In Ara Güler case, we prevented the dissemination of false information even in the last minute. We announced the “update” shortly after as well. I think there was nothing to make us wait in the presence of such information the accuracy of which we were sure about.

Mert Can [Writer]: According to me, Facebook is a more suitable channel for such an announcement. Editing of a post on Facebook provides us an advantage. We updated on Twitter, but our tweet about the living of Ara Güler is still active. If this tweet was retweeted after we confirmed his passing, a little problematic issue arises. Twitter users generally do not open and read the tweet threads. They usually perceive what they directly see on the screen. I think a critical problem did not arise in Ara Güler case. On the other hand, such an approach we used may be perceived as a kind of disinformation if we will have to intervene in a more urgent development in the future.

Alican [Writer]: In my opinion, our verification on that night hit the right notes. However, there is an issue. Context of the event needs to be considered in such situations. I am not sure if we were fully responsible for preventing the dissemination of false information about passing of a 90-year-old person who was struggling with various diseases and hospitalized for a long time. I think we jumped the gun to some extent. It was not a “moment of crisis.” Our sources and our methods to confirm information at that time were almost the same with those of the news sites. If passing news of Ara Güler was shared with a claim such as “He could not be saved by doctors, he was poisoned etc.” in that night, we would have to intervene very quickly, even “instantly.” We are required to reflect truth of a certain moment. An analysis we wrote may go to a total opposite point with the emergence of different evidence. But if the context and person are observed, the whole course may change. Some of us mentioned this in our discussion on that night. This is the point. According to me, our motivation on that night led us to make mistake in a very short time and detracted us from the methodology that we usually apply in analyses.

Ali Osman [Editor]: Actually, news sites reported passing of Ara Güler based on the information taken from Yasemin İnceoğlu( Professor at Galatasaray University). Ara Güler seemed to die when his heart stopped. Later, he was resurrected and a correction was made to point out that he was still alive. Namely, news sites did not act deliberately. Even, the site links which announced “his passing” were edited as “Ara Güler whose heart stopped was resurrected.” As a result, such information eliminated itself shortly. At that moment, we announced that the claim about passing of Ara Güler is false. But then, he died actually. We seemed to deny his passing by contrast with the news sites which declared his death. I accept that we were unlucky to some extent. There was an unclear situation about a 90-year-old man even in the eyes of doctors. I agree with Alican. We could wait further because the state of Güler was critical. Besides, Mert touched on a rational point. The number of people who saw our tweet about living of Güler is questionable. In Ara Güler case, there is a thin line between prevention of fault and its dissemination. If we will feature the event of death as a moment of crisis, we need to change this some more. Ara Güler is a great photographer, but I do not think that decease of a 90-year-old person is a crisis. At this point, consequences such as traffic accidents, being found dead at home or explosion can lead to crisis.

Selin [Project Assistant]: I am not involved in content works, but I would like to express my opinion very briefly. According to me, denying passing of Ara Güler initially was a right action. Proposition of the claim belongs to a certain period, so you judge whether it is true or false. However, the challenging point here is that the claim had the potential to “become actual” in a short time. This condition may sometimes apply to other claims. The proposition that lemon is good for cancer treatment is false under current situations, but we cannot know if it will be still false 10 years later. It has a potential of actualization as well. Although the issue in my example is different from the issue of Ara Güler in terms of time and potential of actualization, our working principle is the same. Was such proposition false or true at that time frame? I am not sure if working without this principle is possible.

Atakan: None of us have the capability of forethought. I have a question for those who argued that waiting would be better. How long would we wait to obtain a satisfactory result? One hour? One day? One week? Did we have to wait for Güler to be taken from intensive care? Let’s say he stayed in intensive care for one month and lapsed into a vegetative state. I think we would not discuss this in such a case. The specific point is the passing of Ara Güler only a few seconds after our tweet. I do not agree that we disseminated false information. The tweet about his living is not invalid, because there are a date and time below it. Shall we put time information inside the tweet if you say that no one looks under the tweet?

Gülin [Editor in Chief]: Actually, I could not be persuaded completely. When the information “Ara Güler passed away” was given, his heart had stopped actually and he seemed to lose his life. But he was resurrected later. Accordingly, the news sites reported, “Ara Güler did not die.” In other words, most of the media organizations already corrected the mistake as we felt the need to explain its fallacy. Even though Güler, unfortunately, lost his life one minute after our tweet regarding his living, I think that the circumstances did not allow us to make a complete verification. We should address the concept of newsworthy for verification. I am not sure if we had to make announcement as all of the news portals could follow the issue as closely as we did and such breaking news was received. How much were we needed at that point? Another issue is the circulation rate of a tweet of teyit.org. Despite updating a tweet, thread continues to be influential. These are my comments. We might wait further for the health state of a man aged 90 whose heart stopped. On the other side, there are infinite possibilities.

Atakan: Prevalence of our second tweet is limited at a definite point. Similarly, corrections of news portals have limited influence. I think we need to discuss verification-worthy rather than newsworthy. If a vote is taken to give a decision:

  • We do not need to wait further in this situation (1 vote)
  • We do not need to verify if there is a possibility of actualization in a short time (0 vote)
  • We need to publish the true developments in any case (3 votes)

Gülin: According to me, to determine something about the identification of such “situation” will be more proper. Since our steps should be shaped by this determination. For example, in case of news sites did not take step to correct their mistakes or they had inadequate sources. We cannot specify the time for waiting will be sufficient. It seems to me that verify in any case will ignore the conditions I mentioned. Besides, we cannot estimate the actualization of events in a short time.   

AFTER ALL; This discussion clarified our opinion about how to approach to similar cases in the future. Even though we could not come to a precise agreement, we reminded to each other that we should be more patient, considering the specific characteristics of each event. Furthermore, we argued that we should not refrain from reflecting truth at a certain moment.

We would like to invite our readers to this format in the upcoming days. You are welcome to share your views as comment and contribute to our discussion.