On July 29th, the Turkish Parliament passed a law that will give authorities more powers to control social media content.
The law requires foreign social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to appoint Turkish-based representatives to address authorities’ concerns over content and includes deadlines for removal of material they take exception to.
Companies that do not adhere to this may face fines, the blocking of advertisement rights, as well as having their bandwidth cut down by up to 90%.
These sanctions will be applied depending on the severity of the infraction if they fail to designate a representative or if the content that has been found unacceptable is not removed or blocked within 24 hours.
Administrative fines for providers who fail to meet obligations would be raised to encourage compliance.
Previously, fines were between 10,000-100,000 Turkish Liras ($1,500 – $15,000), but the amount would now be between 1 million – 10 million liras ($146,165 – $1,461,650).
If the representative will be a real entity, not a legal one, it has to be a Turkish citizen.
The new legislation requires user data from social media networks to be stored in Turkey.
The law was submitted by the ruling AKP and its nationalist partner the MHP, which have a majority in the parliament, and passed after debates that took almost the entire July 28th.
Human rights groups and the opposition are worried over what they call the erosion of freedom of expression in Turkey, with thousands of people subject to criminal proceedings for “insulting” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on social media.
Human Rights Watch expressed concerns that the law would enable the government to control social media, to get content removed at will and to arbitrarily target individual users.
“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 program director at Human Rights Watch in a statement before the legislation passed.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chair Engin Özkoç criticized the government for “seizing” mainstream media and said people had found refuge in social media to express their opinions in the absence of an impartial media.
“We believe and support that any kind of thoughts that do not exceed the limits of morality should be freely expressed on social media,” Özkoç told reporters ahead of the debate at the parliament’s general assembly.
İYİ (Good) Party group deputy chair Lütfü Türkkan suggested that the ruling party aims to make the internet “a part of a totalitarian regime that they want to build, and it has betrayed” Turkey’s future.
“The government is trying to build a new regime in Turkey,” he said.
Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said the bill would not lead to censorship but “would establish commercial and legal ties with the social media platforms.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly criticized social media and said a rise of “immoral acts” online in recent years was due to a lack of regulations.
To avoid any backtracking, Turkish parliament also passed a motion to put itself in recess until October 1st.
According to Twitter’s latest “transparency report” for the first half of 2019, Turkey ranked number one for seeking content removal with more than 6,000 requests.
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