Turkey passes controversial bill to strengthen social media News

Turkey’s parliament passed a controversial bill that gives the government more control over social media, raising concerns about freedom of expression in the country.

Under the new law passed on Wednesday, social media giants like Facebook and Twitter must ensure they have local representatives in Turkey and comply with court orders about removing certain content.

Companies could face fines, ad blocking, or reduce bandwidth by up to 90 percent, essentially blocking access, under the new regulations.

The law, which targets social media with over a million unique daily visits, also says that servers with Turkish user data must be stored in Turkey.

It was presented by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK) and its nationalist partner, the National Movement Party (MHP), which have a majority in parliament.

Human rights groups and the opposition are concerned about what they call the erosion of freedom of expression in Turkey, where criminal prosecutions for “insulting” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on social media are common.

They argue that greater control over social media will also limit access to independent or critical information in a country where the media is in the hands of pro-government or state-controlled entrepreneurs.

“Because right now?” asked Yaman Akdeniz, a professor at Istanbul Bilgi University and also an expert in cyber rights.

“While print and broadcast media platforms are already under government control, social media is relatively free.

“Social media has become one of the few spaces for free and effective expression in Turkey,” he told the AFP news agency.

Turkey’s Presidential Digital Transformation Office denied the news reports, alleging that it banned WhatsApp and Telegram messaging apps.

“Reports about the ban on messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram in the press and on social media do not reflect the truth,” a statement said. “There is absolutely no restriction on the communication practices used by our citizens and public personnel in their daily lives.”

Referring to the guidelines it issued on Monday, the agency said the clause on the use of foreign messaging apps was only applicable for confidential corporate communication and document exchange.

“With the aforementioned measure, there are no regulations and restrictions on the instant messaging applications used by public personnel in personal communications,” the statement added.

‘Social media is a lifesaver’

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the law would allow the government to control social media, remove content at will, and arbitrarily target individual users.

“Social media is a lifeline for many people who use it to access news, so this law signals a dark new era of online censorship,” said Tom Porteous, deputy director of the program at the US-based group. , in a statement before the legislation was passed. .

Before the bill passed, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the legislation “would give the state powerful tools to assert even more control over the media landscape.”

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the bill would not lead to censorship, but would instead establish commercial and legal ties to social media platforms.

Erdogan committed to tighten the government’s grip on social media earlier this month after he said “disheartened” users insulted Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and his wife Esra, the president’s daughter, after the birth of their fourth child. .

The president has frequently criticized social media despite having a large following. He once compared such platforms to a “killer knife” and said that an increase in online “immoral acts” in recent years was due to a lack of regulation.

In January, a Turkish court lifted the ban on online encyclopedia Wikipedia after nearly three years.

According to Twitter’s latest “transparency report” for the first half of 2019, Turkey ranked first for seeking content removal, with more than 6,000 requests.