Turkish parliament passed law to control the social media

New law gives sweeping powers to Turkish government over social media

Turkish parliament has passed legislation on Wednesday, July 29 that would give the government sweeping new powers to regulate social media content. There are serious concerns that one of the few remaining spaces for free public debate in the country could fall under greater government control.

Even without the new bill, Turkey blocked access to more than 400,000 websites by the end of 2019, according to Mr. Akdeniz, whose organization, the Freedom of Expression Association, compiles an annual report on internet access in the country.

According to his analysis, last year more than 130,000 web addresses were blocked; 40,000 posts on Twitter taken down; 10,000 YouTube videos removed; and 6,200 Facebook posts scrubbed from the site.

Turkey has become increasingly authoritarian under President Erdogan. This law is another sign of this authoritarian trend. President Erdogan has made no secret of his disdain for social media and of his desire to exert control over digital spaces, much in the same way his government has gained control over traditional media.

The bill orders social media platforms with over one million daily users — such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — to open offices in Turkey and imposes stiff penalties if the companies refuse, including slowing the bandwidth of the sites and making them largely inaccessible.

The companies would be responsible for responding to the demands of the government and individuals to block or remove content hosted on their platforms that is deemed offensive. They would have 48 hours to comply and could be fined more than $700,000 if they fail to respond.

The new law, which is expected to go into effect Oct. 1, also requires the social media companies to store user data inside Turkey, raising privacy concerns.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his governing A.K.P. party were behind the legislation, arguing that it was needed to protect citizens from cyber crime and slander. Critics, however, say it is part of a broader effort to control the flow of information in the country and stifle dissent.

“The new law will enable the government to control social media, to get content removed at will and to arbitrarily target individual users,” Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement released hours before the overnight vote. “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.”

The attempts to gain control over social media in Turkey highlight the paradox the platforms present in the digital age.

But they have also proved to be an increasingly essential tool for debate and dialogue in repressive and autocratic countries, one of the last arenas where opposition figures can connect with the public, and citizens can attempt to hold politicians to account.

More than 90 percent of Turkey’s conventional media is now controlled by conglomerates close to the government. Hundreds of reporters have been jailed or fled the country out of fear and Mr. Erdogan has made himself so omnipresent on TV and radio that his voice can drown out all others. The internet is now, for many, the last open public forum.

In 2016, months before an attempted coup, Turkey moved even more aggressively to censor content on the internet, as the number of people prosecuted for insulting Mr. Erdogan in posts on social media skyrocketed. At the same time, internet trolls loyal to the government used social media platforms to attack critics and journalists.

In 2017, the country shocked many international observers when it banned Wikipedia, a restriction that was lifted only this year in January.

                                                                Khalid Bhatti

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