Risk, Threat, Excitement: Artificial Intelligence Discourses in Turkish News Media


Executive Summary

In his NewsLabTurkey Research Hub’s report titled “Risk, Threat, Excitement: Artificial Intelligence Discourses in Turkish News Media,” we trace the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, whose potential in basic humanitarian areas such as health and education are felt more and more every day, in the Turkish media through qualitative content and discourse analysis. The study covers five years from 2018 to the present, during which the number of news stories about AI started to increase dramatically. Based on the themes and focal points we encountered in the literature on AI, we identified words such as risk, privacy, threat, benefit, education, health, technology etc. as our keywords and scanned the news published online between 2018 and 2023. Using these keywords, we selected 50 news articles for our qualitative analysis through purposive sampling out of 14,000 news articles on health, education, media, law, life, and industry published on the websites of digital native and traditional media. We analyzed the themes framing the topic and the language used in the news including headlines, images and tags of the news published on digital native platforms (e.g., OdaTV, T24, GazeteDuvar) and the websites of traditional media outlets (e.g. www.trthaber.com, www.cumhuriyet.com.tr) through discourse and content analysis. 

AI, which is referred to as machine learning in terms of the basic technological progress it is based on, can undertake various cognitive tasks that humans can do, instead of or for humans, by learning through large data sets consisting of neural networks and large language models. AI has already triggered many economic, social, political, and cultural transformations and has already penetrated the social discourse (Russell and Norvig, 2010). While Artificial General Intelligence is still an abstract concept, new digital tools that work with more focused functions, which are defined as generative AI have entered our life not so long ago, raising many questions. The economic and social effects of this technology, which we have recently started to engage with more directly, continue to arouse intense curiosity, and interest in the subject continues to increase. It is precisely in this situation that the way the news media, which has an important role in shaping public opinion, frames the developing AI technologies and the reactions it develops in the face of this technology gain importance. We wanted to take a closer look at the semantics of this rapidly developing technology specific to Turkey and subjected the AI news we identified within a purposive sample to qualitative content (Neuendorf, 2017) and discourse analysis (Coulthard, 2014).

Taking a closer look at how AI is portrayed in the Turkish news media means opening the door to its discursive future by pointing out the social reflections, triangulation points, and contradictions of this technology that has already begun to shape the global information ecosystem. One of our aims in this study is to reveal the self-reflective nature of the media against this technology that directly affects the news industry. While the relationship between AI and journalism is discussed through the potential of technology to transform and influence journalism (Simon and Isaza-Ibarra, 2023:24), taking a few steps back and trying to make sense of the representations of AI in news texts allows us to see the broader picture on the public horizon.

The main findings of the report are as follows:

AI and Social Discourse: In almost every period of history, technologies developed in a laboratory environment are simultaneously met with excitement and anxiety in social perception. The news media, which has a critical role in shaping the social discourse born out of this perception, has an important place in the ways in which AI technology is reflected in social discourse. How AI is represented in the news directly directs the social discourse on this technology.

Leaving Moral Panic Behind: News stories that contain predictions and assumptions about emerging AI technologies need to be handled with a responsible and data-driven approach, leaving behind the moral panic that emerges as excitement or anxiety in the face of this technology. Due to its responsibility in shaping social discourse, it seems inevitable for news organizations to pay more attention to the position of technology editors in technology news in general and in news about AI in particular, and to reconstruct their journalistic practices.

Techno-Determinism and the Distortion of Political Discourse: The new dimensions of disinformation and the parallel deterioration of political discourse following the rapid development of AI reveal the relationship between technological determinism and political debates. In particular, the transformation of social and political discourse, which continues to be shaped by communication technologies, and accordingly the development of social structure and cultural values, needs to be evaluated in a way that puts human and ecological perspectives at the center, rather than a reductionist perspective that developments of social construction and cultural values are determined by technological developments.

Ethical and Privacy Concerns: It is becoming clear that a more balanced, detailed, and comprehensible discussion of the ethical and privacy concerns, legal issues and potential risks that AI technology may pose, which have surfaced in the news, can help society make more informed decisions when using this technology. A transparent and neutral discussion of the potential risks associated with this technology and the concerns that arise from them can help adopters and developers to adopt a more responsible approach.

AI Literacy: For a more responsible use of AI technology, which penetrates more and more into daily life, it is necessary for society to develop a literacy about this technology as well as news producers. A comprehensive strategy needs to be drawn up for AI literacy trainings covering large segments of the society, which will be put forward by the public, academia, civil society, and industry stakeholders.

Communicative AI Concept: The conceptual problems that arise in the face of this rapidly developing technology become evident in the translation of the concept of “generative/productive AI”. To get rid of the confusion of subjective and objective representation attributed to AI in news texts, theoretical discussions need to deepen. At this point, we think that the concept of communicative AI, which can be adopted by communication and social sciences, can be useful. This concept draws a conceptual framework that addresses the automatization of communication and the contribution of AI to communication processes.