Restrictive laws on social media in Turkey due to come into effect

A new law governing social media sites with more than 1 million daily users in Turkey is due to come into effect on October 1. The law requires companies to establish an office or assign a local representative who is accountable to the Turkish authorities both for legal and tax purposes.

The Guardian reported on Sunday that ‘several sources’ told it that “both Facebook and Twitter are considering not going along with the new rules, either seeking to find a compromise with Ankara or relying on their users to switch to using virtual private networks (VPNs) to continue accessing the sites.”

The alternative, of course, would be to give in to Ankara’s new censorship regime and hire an employee or local organisation who could expect to be held accountable for severe legal issues. The social media companies can take comfort from previous Turkish state attempts to block websites like YouTube and Wikipedia - in both cases the Turkish government ended up backing down.

It’s also the case that the Turkish government makes extensive use of both Facebook and Twitter, and restricting access to these sites would also hurt the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) ability to communicate to Turkish citizens.

If social media companies do not comply with the new legislation within six months, the Turkish government will be able to ban advertising on the platforms, impose large fines of up to £4m and restrict the sites’ bandwidth by up to 90%, slowing down access to the sites.

Over the 17 years that Erdogan’s AKP has been ruling Turkey, the state has progressively brought domestic media under its control. Many journalists like Can Dündar, the former Cumhuriyet editor in chief, have been forced into exile for printing news that damaged the Turkish government.

With most opposition media in Turkey silenced, the government is now turning its attention to social media, which is widely used by critics of the government to communicate with Turkish citizens. 

According to al-Monitor, the new law could apply to “any platform that allows users to share or view documents, images or videos”, which could also allow the Turkish government to target sites like Wikipedia, Netflix or Spotify.

Al-Monitor’s Pinar Tremblay also looked at ways in which the throttling of internet bandwidth to social media sites could be circumvented. Tremblay noted that the restrictions would not apply to government intranet-connected computers, satellite internet connections and people with non-Turkish phone numbers.