Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described social media on Saturday as one of the main threats to democracy.
Erdogan’s government plans to pursue legislation to criminalise spreading fake news and disinformation online, but critics say the proposed changes would tighten restrictions on free speech.
Erdogan said when it first emerged social media was hailed as a symbol of freedom, but now it has “turned into one of the main sources of threats to today’s democracy”.
“In this regard, it is important to inform the public to fight disinformation and propaganda within the framework of truth,” he said.
“We try to protect our people, especially the vulnerable sections of our society, against lies and disinformation without violating our citizens’ right to receive accurate and impartial information.”
The longtime Turkish president said millions of people’s lives were “darkened” because of such news spreading from “channels lacking any effective control mechanism”.
Turkey passed a law last year requiring social media platforms that have more than one million users to maintain a legal representative and store data in the country. Major social media companies, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have since established offices in Turkey.
The new legislation would make the dissemination of “disinformation” and “fake news” criminal offences punishable by up to five years in prison, according to pro-government media reports. It also would establish a social media regulator.
Most of Turkey’s major media companies are under the control of the government, leaving social media as an important outlet for dissenting voices.
Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report, published in September, characterised Turkey as “not free”, noting the removal of content critical of the government and the prosecution of people posting “undesirable” commentary on social media.