Turkish parliament approves bill imposing tighter controls on social media

(Updates with comments)

The Turkish parliament ratified a bill introducing new powers to control social media early on Wednesday.

The bill was passed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has a majority with an allied nationalist party.

With the amendment, social media companies with more than one million users must appoint a legal representative in Turkey to address the authorities' concerns over content and includes deadlines for its removal.

Companies could face fines, blocked advertisements or have their bandwidth slashed by up to 90 percent, essentially blocking access.

Social network providers would have 48 hours to respond to orders to remove offensive content, T24 said.

The law also imposes fines between 1 million to 10 million lira ($146,165 - $1.5 million) on social media companies who fail to swiftly remove hate speech and other illegal content from their platforms.

Turkey was second globally in Twitter-related court orders in the first six months of 2019, according to the company, and it had the highest number of other legal demands from Twitter.

Meanwhile, the majority of Turkey's mainstream media has come under AKP government control especially after the 2016's coup attempt, Turks have taken to social media and smaller online news outlets for critical voices and independent news.

Following a failed military coup in 2016, the AKP government closed more than 150 news outlets and jailed more than 100 journalists, often on terrorism-related accusations. Many journalists also often face charges of “insulting the president”.

AKP Deputy Chairman Mahir Ünal said the new law does not aim to shut down social media or to introduce obstacles against freedom of speech.

"The amendment aims at protecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens who are users of social networks and preventing disinformation," Ünal said.

"From now on, the content of the opposition news websites will be targetted in the first phase, and all news that the government and politicians do not like retrospectively will be deleted and the past will be cleared. That's the goal, not to protect citizens," Yaman Akdeniz, faculty of law at Istanbul Bilgi University, said.

The law boosts censorship and the silencing of dissent, Irish human rights organisation Front Line Defenders said.