The Turkish government is set to amend the existing Internet Law No. 5651 (on the Regulation of Broadcasts via the Internet and the Prevention of Crimes Committed Through such Broadcasts). According to VOA, after his daughter and her husband were insulted on social media, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in July 2020 that social media are “immoral” and will be “completely banned or controlled.”
Turkey's new Internet law, which goes into effect October 1, requires social media companies--called "social network providers" under the new law--like TikTok and Facebook to register local offices in Turkey, subjecting them to local laws and tax regulations. Social media companies would face crippling restriction on their bandwidths if the authority found them noncompliant with the new regulation. Failure to comply will also result in substantial fines issued to their mandatory offices in Turkey, once the new legislation has passed.
Social network platforms will also have to store data of Turkish users in Turkey (i.e., data localization). In addition, the social network providers that are accessed more than 1 million times daily are required (1) to have a notice-and-takedown procedure in which people can submit a notice of a violation of rights based on content on the network, and the company must remove the offending material within 48 hours, and (2) to publish transparency reports regarding the notices and takedowns. Accordingly to Lexology, "An administrative fine of TRY 5 million (approx. EUR 615,000) may be imposed for incompliance with takedown request handling and TRY 10 million may be imposed for incompliance with the reporting requirements." Finally, the new law recognizes that people in Turkey have a right to be forgotten and can request their names be removed from webpages as ordered by a court.
Critics of the new law fear that it will be used to censor political dissent. "If the social media platforms decide to establish offices in Turkey, then they will be compelled to remove the content . . . [subject to] so-called personal rights violations," said Professor Yaman Akdeniz, co-founder of the Freedom of Expression Society, an advocacy group in Istanbul, told VOA.
Such attempt to curtail the access to online medias is not unprecedented in Turkey, with over 400,000 web pages banned and thousands of people prosecuted for their posts, according to VOA. In response, people in Turkey utilized VPNs and proxies to counteract the suppression of Internet censorship. However, limiting bandwidths will likely overpower the use of VPN in restraining the accessibility to online contents that the government deems problematic. Devlet Bahçeli, the president of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), has already called for state intervention in the use of VPN and proxies, to ensure “the clean use of social media.” He also promised his staunch support for any law proposal in the wake of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, further dimming the light of hope for an accessible and free internet.
The fast-growing popularity of social media in Turkey has drawn people from mainstream medias for their news updates. Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners told VOA that one of Erdogan’s primary incentives to propose the stringent legislation is to regain the control of “the flow of information.” Professor Akdeniz also observed that news websites are at risk of facing state censorship and manipulation to “the government’s past injustices, corruption, and irregularity allegations.” However, as the young generation in Turkey has grown fond of the social media, the attempt to restrain the internet may backfire and alienate those young voters from President Erdogan, warned Yesilada.
Turkey's new Internet law is modeled on Germany's controversial Network Enforcement Act, or NetzDG for short, as explained by EFF: The German "law mandates social media platforms with two million users to name a local representative authorized to act as a focal point for law enforcement and receive content take down requests from public authorities. The law mandates social media companies with more than two million German users to remove or disable content that appears to be “manifestly illegal” within 24 hours of having been alerted of the content."
In summary, Turkey's new Internet law has the following components:
- Social network providers that are accessed in Turkey more than 1 million times daily must have a local office in Turkey.
- They must have local storage of data of users in Turkey.
- They must have a notice and takedown process that allows users to send a notice of unlawful material or violation of rights, after which the company has 48 hours to remove it.
- They must process right-to-be-forgotten removal of content as ordered by a court.
For more about Turkey's controversial new law for social network providers, visit Lexology.
--written by Yucheng Cui