Turkey imposes advertising ban on Twitter, Pinterest

(This article has been updated with comments from the Turkish deputy minister in from fourth paragraph; Amnesty official's reaction on seventh paragraph)

Turkey enforced advertising bans on Twitter and image-sharing app Pinterest on Tuesday for failing to comply with tighter regulations on social media.

The Turkish authorities require international social media companies to appoint a legal representative in Turkey to whom courts can turn to make requests to remove content or request the identity of users. The regulations, enacted in July, have drawn criticism from human rights groups, who say they will muzzle dissent.

The companies failed to meet the law’s requirements and advertising bans went into effect on Tuesday, the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) said in the government’s Official Gazette. State authorities can also limit the bandwidths of non-compliant platforms by up to 90 percent, essentially blocking user access.

Twitter and Pinterest’s bandwidth will be cut by 50 percent in April and by 90 percent in May, Deputy Transport Minister Ömer Fatih Sayan said on Tuesday.

“We are determined to do whatever is necessary to protect our nation’s data, privacy and rights,” Sayan said on Twitter. “We will never allow digital fascism and disregard of rules to prevail in Turkey.”

On the eve of the fulfilment deadline on Monday, Facebook Inc. joined other companies in saying it would appoint a representative to Turkey. Other popular services including video-sharing platforms YouTube, owned by Google, and TikTok, as well as employment-based platform LinkedIn, have also announced they would comply.

The decisions by Facebook, Google and YouTube leave them “in serious danger of becoming an instrument of state censorship”, Milena Büyüm, Amnesty International’s Turkey Campaigner, said in a report published on Monday. She called on the companies to tell Amnesty and its users exactly how they would prevent this.

Turkish companies spent 3.5 billion liras ($468 million) on online advertising in the first half of 2020, according to the Advertisers Association. The ads, posted mostly on social media, account for 55 percent of the companies’ marketing. The government collects 22.5 percent of advertising spending as tax.