Social media giants fined by Turkish government under controversial social media law

Turkish authorities have fined several social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok and YouTube, 10 million Turkish lira (1.3 million euros) each under a controversial social media law because they have not appointed representatives in Turkey, local media reported.

The social media companies were informed that if they do not appoint a representative in one month, they will be fined for an additional 30 million Turkish lira (3.9 million euros). Transportation and Infrastructure Deputy Minister Ömer Fatih Sayan said on Twitter that companies who did not comply with the new social media law would continue to be penalized.

The Turkish parliament approved an amendment to the law on Internet crimes submitted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in July. The bill sets 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.

If they refuse to appoint a local representative, they will be subject to phased sanctions: an initial administrative fee of 10 million Turkish lira, then a fine of 30 million Turkish lira, then a three-month ban on advertising and new contracts as well as funds transfers, and finally, as a last resort, a 50 percent reduction in bandwidth that can go up to 90 percent in the event of continued non-compliance. Internet access providers would be required to implement this final sanction within four hours.

The bill obligates social media platforms to respond within 48 hours to complaints about “violations of personal rights” or to judicial orders to remove content. The social network provider that fails to remove offending content within 24 hours after a court ruling will be held responsible for damages incurred by the content.

Turkey has been gradually increasing its grip on social media, and the new law was the latest example of government control. Turkey’s interior minister announced in a statement in August that Turkish police had investigated 14,186 social media accounts in the first seven months of 2020, taking legal action against 6,743 of them on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda, inciting the public to hatred and enmity, instilling fear in and causing panic among the public or containing provocative content.

These interventions have increased in the wake of a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) launched a crackdown on critical media outlets and dissidents under the pretext of suppressing any future coup attempts. This has led to dozens of critical journalists and writers being sent to prison and the closure of hundreds of media outlets in the country.

The cybercrimes department of the Turkish National Police and its branches across the country have been monitoring the Internet 24/7, the statement added.

The new social media law was criticized by human rights defenders and critics including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the UN, who expressed their concerns over the government’s move.

“The law, if adopted, would further undermine the right of people in Turkey to freedom of expression, to obtain information and to participate in public and political life. As well, it would further weaken platforms that are essential for independent journalism,” a statement by Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Liz Throssell had said.

“The new regulation with its draconian provisions will further stifle freedom of expression under the guise of regulating social media. It will be a new scourge in the hands of the authorities to crack down on critics and dissidents expressing their thoughts through social media platforms, the last refuge left to them after the mainstream media of the country yielded almost in its entirety to the will of the ruling party,” Abdullah Bozkurt, president of the Stockholm Center for Freedom, said in a written statement.

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