The Turkish Parliament is preparing to vote on a bill that could block Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The bill comes at a time when Turkey is trying to step-up efforts to control content on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.
According to the draft legislation, social media companies with more than 1 million daily users in Turkey would be forced to establish a formal presence in the country or assign an in-country representative who would be legally accountable to the Turkish authorities.
Companies or their representatives would then be required to respond within 48 hours to complaints about posts that “violate personal and privacy rights” and international companies would be required to store user data inside Turkey.
In case of failure to comply, Turkish authorities will be able to levy steep fines of up to $1.5m (£1.2m) and throttle sites’ bandwidth by up to 90%, effectively making them unusable. Additionally, the bill would also allow courts to order Turkish news websites to remove content within 24 hours.
The vote is yet to be scheduled but experts expect it to pass with the support of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling party and coalition partner. Özlem Zengin, the ruling party legislator, said that the measures sought to balance freedoms with rights and laws.
“We aim to put an end to insults, swearing and harassment made through social media,” he said.
Erdogan and Social Media
In his 17 years in charge of Turkey, Erdogan has been able to consolidate control over traditional media. Social media remains the only platform which Ankara’s strongman has yet not been able to control.
Earlier this month, Erdogan appeared rattled over social media comments on Twitter criticising his daughter and son-in-law after the birth of their fourth child. He later told members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) that the “immoral” platforms “do not suit this country and our people” and should be “brought to order”.
According to a Guardian report, Twitter received 6,073 requests from the Turkish government for content to be removed from the social network, covering 8,993 accounts in the first 6 months of 2019. Twitter complied with 5% of the requests and rejected the rest.
Even though thousands of people are arrested in Turkey as a result of sending social media posts every year, usually over allegations of insulting Turkishness, the president, or support for terrorism, the new legislation marks a new direction allowing Ankara to exert direct control over the platforms.
Local journalists and digital rights experts say the proposals are a concern in a country that has limited space for independent journalism and where social media plays a key role in reporting on and sharing news.
Gulnoza Said, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator said that Turkey’s social media bill is a blatant attempt to make international companies censor more news on behalf of Turkey’s leaders.
“For years, social media posts have been used to prosecute Turkish journalists, and the proposed measures would put them even more at risk for sharing information with the public. We call on the Turkish parliament to reject this bill in its current form.”
Social media giants Twitter, Facebook declined to comment on the proposed legislation while Youtube did not respond to requests for comments.