Turkey begins new era under strict social media curbs

A new Turkish law governing social media websites came into effect on Thursday, threatening to erase the local presence of online platforms like Facebook and Twitter should they fail to comply.

The law drafted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and pushed through parliament requires companies to establish an office or assign a local representative who is accountable to the Turkish authorities both for legal and tax purposes. This also means that the courts are legally sanctioned to ask such offices to remove content or provide the identity of social media users.

As per the bill, these platforms must also keep their Turkish user data in Turkey.

In a series of tweet on Thursday, Turkish cyber-rights activist Yaman Akdeniz cautioned that if social media companies complied with the law by opening a local office in Turkey, they risk “becoming the long arm of the Turkish judiciary”.

“The judges issue approximately 12.000 blocking and removal decisions every single year, and this is the environment the likes of Facebook's Oversight Board and Twitter policy is now required and expected to come and work (in),” he said.

Tom Porteous, deputy programme director at Human Rights Watch, labelled the law “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 said on Sunday.

“Social media companies should loudly and unequivocally call on Turkey to drop this law, and the (European Union) should resolutely back this call.”