The Finer Details of Social Media: Turkey fines social media companies after breach of new “draconian” media laws

November 20, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

In July the Turkish government brought in strict new social media laws. Social media giants including Twitter and Facebook failed to follow them, so the government has issued $1m fines for non-compliance.

What does this mean?

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has labelled social media sites “immoral” and he wants firms to be under stricter government control. These new laws became effective on Thursday October 1 and stated that any social media outlet with over 1 million Turkish daily users would need to have a representative within the country. They also ordered these firms to follow rules to take down “offensive” content and posts within 48 hours.

Social media companies have not followed these new orders. Facebook has instructed the government that these laws are too restrictive and the site will not comply. These fines are only the beginning of Turkey’s proposed strict penalties for ignoring the rules. If sites such as Twitter and Youtube do not have representation in Turkey by December, the fine will jump to around $3.5m. If they still don’t abide after five months the government will start banning advertising and eventually prevent users from accessing the sites by implementing a bandwidth cut.  These bans would censor the content of social media outlets and prevent the Turkish public from posting opinions online which contradict the government.

What's the big picture effect?

This is not the first time the government has attempted to censor opinions presented in or by the media. The government controls over 90% of news outlets. Wikipedia was banned for three years in the country after the President found certain entries “offensive” to his leadership. The government’s shift to focus on social media indicates they are aware of the power social media firms now hold in the presentation of news and as an outlet for personal expression. In their eyes, these platforms must be controlled by the state. Suppressing criticism of the government on social media is a priority for the President. Social media users have previously been arrested for speaking against President Erdrogan and his ruling AKP party.

However, critics of the President’s actions have labelled the new laws “draconian”. They find the restrictions to be in breach of human rights and citizens’ freedom of expression; those in opposition of the government are at risk of having their platform of expression taken away. The NGO Freedom House has found Turkey’s levels of internet freedom to be distinctly low, it lags behind similarly restrictive countries including Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Azerbaijan. As most social media firms pay 7.5% in Digital Services Tax to the government, driving them out of Turkey will also have a negative economic impact for the country. 

It is clear social media sites do not intend to comply with these new restrictions, perhaps due to the comparatively low value of the fine; $1m is unlikely to threaten multi-billion dollar corporations such as Facebook.  However, President Erdogan and his government are undoubtedly prepared to go to new lengths to subdue criticism of their actions.

Report written by Arun Allen

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