Turkey Fines Facebook, Twitter, and Other Tech Firms Under Social Media Law

In this picture taken on September 30, 2020 shows logos of social networking websites disp
Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

The Erdogan regime in Turkey fined Facebook, Twitter, and other tech firms this week for failing to comply with a social media law that requires each to appoint a representative to liaise with the Turkish government.

Under the new legislation, passed in July, any platform with more than one million users is required to appoint a representative who will take orders from the government to censor or remove content or face significant fines.

Among the companies the government punished are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, YouTube, and TikTok, all of whom have been fined 10 million lira ($1.2 million) for failing to comply with the order.

If the firms refuse to appoint a representative by the beginning of next month, they will be fined an additional 30 million lira ($3.6 million). Failure to comply by early next year will lead to a complete advertising ban, meaning the companies will largely be unable to make any money in Turkish territory.

Should the companies still refuse to comply three months after the advertising ban, this would lead to the imposition of a bandwidth reduction of 50 percent, rising to as much as 90 percent as a result of continued non-compliance. At a 90-percent reduction, the firms would effectively be inaccessible to the majority of the Turkish population.

Amid coverage of the fines, Deputy Transport and Infrastructure Minister Ömer Fatih Sayan took to Twitter to explain what the government demanded of social media companies.

He explained:

I regret to see that there is a lot of misinformation about this regulation, which is publicly known as the Social Media Law. So what are our demands from social media companies?

  1. Answering Turkish applications in Turkish.
  2. In case of violation of personal rights and privacy, the social network provider responds to applications within 48 hours.
  3. Social network providers publish reports on individual applications every 6 months.
  4. Following a court decision, social networks that do not remove illegal content within 24 hours will be responsible for the damage that may arise.
  5. Social networking providers and data collectors in Turkey will take the necessary measures regarding hosting in Turkey.

Despite its presentation by Sayan as a requirement for accountability, the legislation has raised concerns about censorship in Turkey, where it remains illegal to insult President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.

As detailed by Human Rights Watch, the use of social media by Turkish citizens is essential for political dissidence under a regime only seconded by China in terms of its persecution of journalists.

“If passed, 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 program director at Human Rights Watch, in July. “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.”

“It is essential for everyone who values and champions free speech to recognize how damaging these new restrictions will be in a country where an autocracy is being constructed by silencing media and all critical voices,” he continued. “Social media companies should loudly and unequivocally call on Turkey to drop this law, and the EU should resolutely back this call.”

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