Turkish Parliament Approves Social Media Law Despite Concerns of Censorship

(ISTANBUL) — Turkey’s parliament approved a law early Wednesday that gives authorities greater power to regulate social media despite concerns of growing censorship.

The law requires major social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter to keep representative offices in Turkey to deal with complaints against content on their platforms.

If the social media company refuses to designate an official representative, the legislation mandates steep fines, advertising bans and bandwidth reductions. With a court ruling, bandwidth would be reduced by 50% and then by 50% to 90%. Bandwidth reductions mean social media networks would be too slow to use.

The representative will be be tasked with responding to individual requests to take down content violating privacy and personal rights within 48 hours or to provide grounds for rejection. The company would be held liable for damages if the content is not removed or blocked within 24 hours.

Most alarmingly, the new legislation also would require social media providers to store user data in Turkey.

The government says the legislation was needed to combat cybercrime and protect users. Speaking in parliament Wednesday morning, ruling party lawmaker Rumeysa Kadak said it would be used to remove posts that contain cyberbullying and insults against women.

Opposition lawmakers said the law would further limit freedom of expression in a country where the media is already under tight government control and dozens of journalists are in jail. Hundreds of people have been investigated and some arrested over social media posts.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded the law, vowing to “control social media platforms” and eradicate immorality.

Turkey leads the world in removal requests to Twitter, with more than 6,000 demands in the first half of 2019.

More than 408,000 websites are blocked in Turkey, according to The Freedom of Expression Association.

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia was blocked for nearly three years before Turkey’s top court ruled that the ban violated the right to freedom of expression and ordered it unblocked.

Social media companies did not immediately comment.

The law passed after 16 hours of tense deliberations in parliament, where Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist ally hold the majority of seats. It will be published in the Official Gazette after Erdogan approves it.

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