Turkey has rolled out strict new social media restrictions that force large social media platforms to open offices in the country or face penalties.
The measures, which came into force on Thursday, also include penalties for the platforms if they fail to take down contentious posts.
The legislation was passed by parliament in July with the backing of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and its ally ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Under the new rules, platforms with more than one million daily users have to open commercial offices in Turkey to implement local court judgements in removing offending content within 48 hours.
In case they do not comply, the companies may face restrictions on advertising, fines of up to 40 million Turkish liras (approximately $5m) and bandwidth restrictions of up to 90 percent, which would unstabilise and make it hard to access the platforms.
Iain Levine, Facebook’s human rights officer, tweeted on September 28 that the new legislation “raises many concerns (about) human rights”.
Emma Sinclair-Web, Turkey director of US-based Human Rights Watch, described the legislation as “draconian”, and called on social media giants not to comply with it.
“Twitter @Policy & @Facebook should avoid the terrible precedent it sets and not comply & Turkey’s authorities should backtrack,” she tweeted on Wednesday.
The AK Party, however, has refuted criticism of the legislation, claiming that the new measures do not threaten freedoms.
“We aim to end insults and swearing on social media and harassment through this form of media,” Ozlem Zengin, the party’s deputy group chair, said during a debate on the bill in parliament.
“We’re aware of its place in our lives and we’re also aware of the extent of its use, but, in this sense, there is a series of tiered sanctions [in the new measures] trying to set a balance between freedoms and rights and justice,” she added.
Ibrahim Aydemir, an AK Party politician, said in a tweet on Thursday that the new measures aimed to protect people’s “honour, dignity and pride”.
Erdogan, who has more than 16.5 million Twitter followers, has expressed his views against social media several times in the past.
Weeks before the new legislation was adopted, The Turkish president promised to tighten government control over social media after “insults” were directed at his daughter and son-in-law when they announced the birth of their fourth child on Twitter.
Erdogan then promised new legislation by the year’s end to stringently regulate “immoral” social media.
Twitter and YouTube were blocked in Turkey for a brief period in 2014 before the local elections following an alleged corruption scandal, which was spread via online video tapes.