Turkish gov’t is using pandemic to exert further control over social media platforms – HRW

The Turkish government is using the country’s pandemic as a bid to expand control and censorship over social media platforms, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

One of the eight major clauses “buried deep” in a draft law on new economic measures to address COVID-19, would coerce popular platforms – such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – to each assign a legal representative to deal with Turkish courts, HRW Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb said.

The representative would have 72 hours to manage requests to remove content and block access to accounts and report every three months on what content had been removed, Sinclair-Webb said, citing the draft law which circulated on April 9.

Platforms would also be required to store users’ data inside the country, which implies that the authorities could demand access to it, she said, adding that failing to comply with the law could draw up fines of up to 5 million Turkish lira ($746,000).

Turkish authorities have detained and prosecuted scores of people over social media posts critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or subjects that the country could cite as supporting terrorism, such as Turkey’s military operations in Syria or the massive crackdown following the 2016 failed coup.

During the pandemic, people have been briefly detained then subjected to criminal investigation and prosecution for social media posts prosecutors deem “publicly threaten health in order to create fear and panic among the population”, Sinclair-Webb said.

“In times of war or national crisis, Turkey has often stepped up its regular intimidation and prosecution of people for criticising government policies on social media,” she said.