Turkey’s social media law is expected to take effect in October. The new law, adopted by the Turkish parliament on 29 July, curtails human rights online for over one million of users. Major social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, will be required to have a legal representative in Turkey and must remove content deemed “offensive” within 48 hours.
What’s in the New Law?
The new law imposes strict rules on social media platforms that are active in Turkey. To begin with, the law gives Turkish authorities greater power to regulate social media. If a social media company is issued with a notification of “illegal content” they must remove the content from their platform within 48 hours.
Additionally, social media platforms with over one million users – such as Twitter and Facebook – must have at least one social media representative in Turkey. This representative must have Turkish citizenship and be a resident in Turkey. Their contact details must also be included on the website. Furthermore, social media providers will be required to store domestic user data in Turkey.
Companies that do not comply with the new rules face five stages of escalating penalties, including fines, advertising bans, and bandwidth restrictions of up to 90%, essentially making them inaccessible. If companies fail to remove content deemed “offensive” within 48 hours, they also risk fines of up to 10 million lira ($1.5 million).
History of Internet Blockades
The law has been piloted through parliament by Prime Minister Erdoğan’s AK party and the Turkish nationalist party MHP. The government defends the bill and claims it is aimed at protecting social media users in Turkey. “The bill aims to protect the basic rights and freedoms of citizens and to get ahead of the disinformation,” ruling Justice and Development Party deputy chairman Mahir Unal said.
Turkey has a bad reputation when it comes to censoring content and imposing internet blockades. In August 2016, the Turkish government blocked Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo, for allowing critical social media posts about Prime Minister Erdoğan. In October 2019, the Prime Minister blocked Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp for users along the Syrian border. This was during a military operation to expel the Kurds from the border region.
The long-lasting blockade of Wikipedia finally came to an end at the beginning of this year. It lasted 991 days. The restrictions were imposed following the publication of an article on state-sponsored terrorism, that accused Turkey of being a sponsor country for ISIS and Al-Qaeda, which Turkish courts viewed as a public manipulation of mass media.
Deep Concerns about Censorship and Free Speech
Civil rights movements are deeply concerned about the new Turkish legislation. According to Amnesty International, the law is a “brutal attack” on the freedom of expression. “This is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression online and contravenes international human rights law and standards,” said Amnesty International’s Turkey specialist Andrew Gardner.
Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch, commented: “The new law will 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.”
Adrian Shahbaz, director for technology and democracy at Freedom House, issued the following statement: “This is a dramatic escalation of internet regulation in Turkey. Under this law, Turkish authorities are aiming to coerce social media companies to comply with censorship and surveillance. It’s not about protecting users—there are better ways to achieve that—this is about governments gaining new powers to police what people say and how they say it.”
Declining Internet Freedom
Statistics show Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube are the most popular social media platforms in Turkey. All platforms are generally increasing their reach, despite the fact that users may find their posts removed at a higher rate than in most other countries.
In 2019, Turkish authorities blocked access to over 400,000 websites, 7,000 Twitter accounts and 10,000 YouTube videos, according to a recent report from the Freedom of Expression Association. 54 million people in the country of 84 million are active social media users. Some Turkish citizens are trying to get around internet censorship by using a VPN service. However, this is getting more and more difficult, as the government continues to attempt to restrict access to popular VPN services.