Turkey’s parliament passes controversial law to regulate social media
Turkey’s parliament on Wednesday passed a law to exert greater control over social media, forcing platforms to comply with strict conditions or face fines and bandwidth reductions.
Rights groups and free speech campaigners warned the “draconian” law would give the government more power to increase online censorship and silence dissent, and urged technology giants such as Google, Twitter and Facebook not to cooperate with it.
Foreign social media platforms accessed by more than 1 million daily users in Turkey would have to appoint legal representatives based in Turkey, state news agency Anadolu reported.
Failure to appoint a representative would result in heavy fines, advertising bans and gradually having the platform’s bandwidth slashed, rendering it unusable.
Such firms will also have to store users’ data in Turkey, making it easier for the authorities to access.
Ankara routinely detains and prosecutes people for criticizing the government and its policies on social media.
The representative will be responsible for dealing with individual requests, within 48 hours, to take down any content that violates privacy and personal rights.
The content must then be removed or blocked within 24 hours, if mandated by a court, or the company will face damages.
Turkey had the highest number of legal demands to Twitter related to data removal and the second-highest number of court orders, after Russia, in the first half of 2019, the company said in its latest transparency report.
The Istanbul-based Freedom of Expression Association said in a report that, by the end of 2019, 408,000 websites, 7,000 Twitter accounts, 40,000 tweets, 10,000 YouTube videos and 6,000 Facebook posts were legally blocked in the country.
A ban on Wikipedia was lifted in January after two and a half years.Accustomed to the restrictions, more internet savvy Turks bypass them by using virtual private networks. But the law will be a test for social media companies.
As the major share of mainstream broadcasters and newspapers are controlled by the government, Turks increasingly rely on social media and independent online news outlets.
“Social media is a lifeline for many people who use it to access news, so this law signals a new dark era of online censorship,” said Tom Porteous, deputy programme director at Human Rights Watch, ahead of its passage.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this month threatened legislation to regulate social media after his grandson’s birth announcement prompted attacks on Twitter.
“Do you understand why we are against social media such as YouTube, Twitter and Netflix? To eradicate such immorality,” he said.
Erdogan called social media centres of “depravity” and a “source of lies, slander, attacks on personal rights, character assassinations.”
The legislation passed easily as Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), have a parliamentary majority.