Facebook to appoint representative to Turkey

Facebook has announced that it has begun the process of appointing a representative to Turkey in compliance with a new law regulating social media companies, the company announced in a statement on Monday. 

The social media law passed this summer has inspired concern that the Turkish government will use this as a means to pressure companies into censoring material from its users. 

Facebook on Monday acknowledged these concerns, but reaffirmed its commitment to freedom of expression and promised to not bow to pressure from any government to undermine this value. 

"This decision does not change Facebook’s Community Standards, nor the global process for reviewing government requests, and we will withdraw the representative if we face pressure on either," read Facebook's statement.

"We remain committed to the Turkish community and maintaining free expression and other human rights in Turkey," it continued.

Under a section of Internet Law No. 5651, passed by the Turkish parliament in July, social media companies operating in Turkey are required to appoint a representative to the country who will  receive service of administrative, court orders and respond to other notifications and requests made by Turkish service providers. Any company accessed 1 million times daily are regulated by this law which includes most large social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

Facebook has faced persistent scrutiny from Turkish regulators who demanded it appoint a representative under the new law. In November, it was fined $1.8 million dollars for its non-compliance and threatened with a ban on advertising as well as a reduction in its bandwidth to limit users' access to the site.

Whatsapp, the messenger app acquired by Facebook in 2014, has also been lambasted by Turkish regulators for a change in its data policies that would see user data on the app shared with the parent company. Turkish citizens were encouraged to migrate away from the app and the government announced that it would be ending its Whatsapp group chats in favour of Telegram and local Turkish app BiP.  

Human rights groups were quick to react to Facebook’s announcement of its intent to appoint a representative to Turkey, 

"Facebook, and the other tech companies which are establishing a presence in Turkey, must now publicly disclose the specific steps they will take to respect the right to freedom of expression, given the pressure they will undoubtedly face from the authorities and the lack of an independent judiciary," said Sarah Clarke, head of the Europe and Central Asia programme at UK-based Article 19. 

Milena Buyum, Amnesty International's Turkey campaigner, warned that Facebook's decision could put the other social media giants in a more precarious position in resisting pressure from Ankara. 

"Facebook’s decision leaves them - and Google, Youtube and others - in serious danger of becoming an instrument of state censorship," said Buyum, adding that "they must tell us and their users in Turkey what concrete steps they will take to prevent this from happening.” 

Twitter has not yet announced any intention to appoint a representative to Turkey. Youtube, TikTok, VKontakte (VK), Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime Video and LinkedIn are among the companies who have complied with Internet Law No. 5651 since it came into effect.