Turkish Parliament passes law to regulate social media content

Opposition politicians say the legislation will increase censorship and help authorities silence dissent

Turkish lawmakers passed a bill on Wednesday that would give the government greater powers to regulate social media. AP
Turkish lawmakers passed a bill on Wednesday that would give the government greater powers to regulate social media. AP

Turkey’s Parliament passed a law on Wednesday introducing powers to regulate social media despite concerns it will increase online censorship and silence dissent.

The law, which was backed by President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP, requires foreign media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to keep representative offices in Turkey to respond to complaints from authorities against content on their platforms.

Companies could face steep fines, blocked advertisements and bandwidth reductions if they refuse to comply with requests under the regulations, which lay out deadlines for the removal of content deemed offensive.

The new legislation also requires social media providers to store user data in Turkey.

The government said the legislation is needed to combat cyber crime and protect users.

In Parliament on Wednesday morning, ruling party politician Rumeysa Kadak said it would be used to remove posts that contain bullying and insults against women.

Critics said the law will further limit freedom of expression in a country where the media is already under tight government control and dozens of journalists are in jail.

“The new law will enable the government to control social media, to get content removed at will, and to arbitrarily target individual users,” said Tom Porteous, deputy programme director at Human Rights Watch. “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.”

Mr Erdogan has said the new law was needed to “control social media platforms” and eradicate immorality.

Turkey leads the world in removal requests to Twitter, with more than 6,000 demands in the first half of 2019. According to the Freedom of Expression Association, more than 408,000 websites are blocked in Turkey.

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia was blocked for nearly three years before Turkey’s highest court ruled that the ban violated the right to freedom of expression and ordered it unblocked.

The law passed after 16 hours of tense deliberations in Parliament, where Mr Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist ally hold the majority of seats. It will be published in the Official Gazette after Mr Erdogan approves it.

Updated: July 29, 2020 01:54 PM

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