A yearly report by Freedom House on global Internet freedom reveals that Internet freedom continued to decline for a third year in a row in Turkey and that hundreds of websites were blocked during the period covered.
According to the report, online content deemed critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was removed from websites and social media platforms, while online activists, journalists and social media users were harassed both physically and online for their social media posts.
“The proliferation of restrictive laws has further formalized censorship in the country,” Freedom House said.
The Freedom on the Net 2021 report, titled “The Global Drive to Control Big Tech,” indicates that Turkey’s new social media regulations reduced social media companies’ ability to resist requests from Turkish authorities that are designed to further censor opposition voices, independent journalism and nonviolent expression.
In July 2020 the Turkish parliament passed legislation at President Erdoğan’s request imposing far-reaching restrictions on social media platforms with more than 1 million daily visitors in Turkey.
The law, which concerns YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, went into effect at the beginning of October and set forth progressive sanctions forcing social media platforms with more than 1 million connections a day to appoint a representative in Turkey with whom the Turkish authorities can resolve problems arising from cases of insult, intimidation and violation of privacy.
Platforms are also required to remove content deemed “offensive” within 48 hours of being notified or risk escalating penalties including fines, advertising bans and limitations of bandwidth.
According to the Freedom on the Net 2021 report, global Internet freedom declined for the 11th consecutive year, and governments clashed with technology companies on users’ rights. “Authorities in at least 48 countries pursued new rules for tech companies on content, data, and competition over the past year,” it said.
“The AKP government has pursued a dramatic and wide-ranging crackdown on perceived opponents since an attempted coup in 2016. Constitutional changes adopted in 2017 concentrated power in the hands of the president,” the report said.
The Turkish government has been relentless in its crackdown on critical media outlets, particularly after the coup attempt.
A new bill expected to soon be proposed by the AKP stipulates prison sentences for social media users who “insult” someone or spread “lies and disinformation” online, Turkish media recently reported.
Users who are charged with “insulting” someone on social media could be sentenced to between three months and two years under the bill, while people who are found to be spreading “lies and disinformation” online may face between one and five years behind bars.