Turkey: Ruling party moves to tighten grip on social media giants

Draft legislation would make social media giants with more than 1 million users in Turkey more accountable to gov’t.

Erdogan social media
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised earlier this month to tighten government control over social media, following alleged insults on Twitter to his daughter and son-in-law who announced the birth of their fourth child on the website [File: Presidential Press Service via AP]

The Turkish president’s governing party is submitting draft legislation to parliament that would enable the government to tighten its grip on social media, an official said on Tuesday. The opposition fears the legislation will lead to greater censorship in the country.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has greatly concentrated powers into his own hands during 17 years in office, pledged this month to bring social media platforms under control following a series of tweets that allegedly insulted his daughter and son-in-law after they announced the birth of their fourth child on Twitter. At least 11 people were detained for questioning over the tweets.

The nine-article draft legislation would force social media companies with more than one million daily users in Turkey – such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – to establish a formal presence or assign a representative in Turkey who would be accountable to Turkish authorities legally and for tax purposes.

A social media company or its representative would also be required to respond within 48 hours to complaints about posts that violate personal and privacy rights.

The social media giants would be obliged to assign a representative within 30 days after the legislation comes into force, or face gradually increasing fines and bandwidth reductions of up to 90 percent, governing party legislator Ozlem Zengin told reporters.

“We aim to put an end to insults, swearing, to harassment made through social media,” Zengin said, adding that the measures sought to “balance freedoms with rights and laws”.

“Our priority is not to close down the social media providers. We are aware of the importance in our lives,” she said.

Opposition parties, however, have expressed concerns that the government’s plans are aimed at further limiting the Turkish public’s ability to access social media and reach independent news and information in an environment dominated by pro-government media.

Thousands of websites already remain blocked in Turkey. In January, the government lifted a more-than-two-year ban on Wikipedia after Turkey’s top court declared it unconstitutional. Turkey halted access to the online encyclopedia after it refused to remove content the government deemed offensive. The Turkish government has also banned YouTube and Twitter in the past.

Meanwhile, at least 76 journalists and other media workers remain behind bars, according to The Journalists’ Union of Turkey. The Committee to Protect Journalists has labelled Turkey one of the world’s top jailers of journalists.

The draft bill is scheduled to be debated in the general assembly next week, Zengin added.

The legislation is expected to pass with the votes of the governing party and its nationalist allies.

Source: AP