Turkey ratifies social media bill amid concerns

The Turkish Parliament ratified a bill Wednesday to regulate social media in the country, with backing from the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party and its ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

The bill requires foreign-based social media websites with more than one million users to appoint representatives based in Turkey to address any concerns that Turkish authorities might have over the content. In such cases, there is a deadline of 48 hours to remove the content considered objectionable. If the websites fail to remove such content or do not appoint country representatives, they could be fined, have advertisements blocked and bandwidth cut by up to 90 percent. Administrative fines would be raised from 10,000-10,0000 Turkish lira ($1,500-$15,000) to 1 million-10 million Turkish lira ($146,165-$1,461,650). The website representative must be a citizen of Turkey if it is a real entity. The proposed legislation also requires servers with Turkish users’ data to be stored in the country.

The bill was pushed after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family members were allegedly subjected to insults on Twitter, causing him to seek to regulate “immoral” social media. While the president and his party claim that the bill was needed to protect citizens from cybercrime, slander, and to establish commercial and legal ties with social media companies, opposition parties have objected to it on concerns of increased censorship, stifled dissent and establishment of a totalitarian regime.

Turkey has more than 54 million social media users out of a population of 83 million people. According to the General Directorate of Security, in 2018, 110,000 accounts were investigated and more than 7,000 people were detained over their social media posts. Turkey has previously banned websites including Wikipedia, Twitter and Youtube. The ban on Wikipedia was only lifted in January this year.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among other human rights groups, have criticised the bill as a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

Turkey will negotiate with social media companies over the next six months as the law comes into effect on October 1.