ANKARA: Turkey’s telecommunications regulatory authority on Wednesday handed down individual company fines of 10 million Turkish lira ($1.26 million) to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, YouTube and TikTok for breaching the country’s new social media regulations.
Controversial legislation that came into effect on Oct. 1 requires social media platforms with more than 1 million users to appoint a local representative in Turkey or face a hefty fine, an advertising ban and data restrictions.
So far, only Russian site VK has adhered to the ruling.
Social media giants that continue to flout the Turkish law face an additional fine of up to $3.6 million in the next 30 days, followed by an advertising ban in January next year, and then bandwidth being gradually slashed by up to 90 percent until May.
Sarphan Uzunoglu, an expert on communication technologies from Bilgi University in Istanbul, told Arab News that “such a restriction is against the functioning of the modern economy.”
“These companies have been trying the limits of the state,” he added.
New social media regulations have been criticized as an attempt to control the country’s digital landscape by requiring all data on Turkish social media users to be stored in Turkey.
The platforms are also obliged to investigate claims on personal and privacy rights within 48 hours and will be held responsible for failure to remove content deemed “illegal” by Turkish authorities within 24 hours.
Uzunoglu said that firms hit with fines should have appointed a representative in Turkey long ago in order to better fight disinformation campaigns and actively handle judicial issues such as users’ privacy.
Experts believe that Turkey’s stance on press freedom and rule of law have encouraged social media companies to challenge the latest restrictions. The networks are used by an estimated 54 million people in the country, almost two thirds of the population.
Turkey has been ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index, and the latest data from the World Justice Project placed Turkey 107th out of 128 nations in the Rule of Law Index.
Burak Dalgin, a technology expert and founding member of the recently formed breakaway Deva Party, told Arab News: “This new legislation was hastily passed by parliament without searching for any consensus and it is aimed at restricting the only public domain for free speech remaining in Turkey, which is the internet.
In a country where about 90 percent of conventional media is under governmental control, the social media legislation was passed only 16 hours after it came before the Turkish parliament.
Dalgin said that it was impossible to resolve a global problem with domestic laws that were not modeled on international practices.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Deva Party said: “We don’t want a repressive mindset in Turkey; we don’t want an impoverished and isolated country. This social media law undermined our country’s prestige at the international sphere.
“We accord high priority to pass such laws with a participatory approach. A technology ambassador should be appointed to Silicon Valley rather than opting for such restrictions.”
However, a report prepared by the ruling Justice and Development Party earlier this year proposed the creation of local digital platforms to protect national data and “cultural sensitivities.”
Isik Mater, a digital rights activist and research director at the NetBlocks monitoring group, told Arab News: “Social media platforms don’t open a representation office in Turkey because they see it as a risky country in terms of freedom of expression and state monitoring of the digital landscape.”
As the platforms rely on advertising revenues, any ban might force companies to assign a representative, experts say.
“However, it is unlikely that any social media company would agree to store Turkish users’ data in Turkish territories. In this way, it would be easier for the government authorities to reach personal data and abuse them,” Mater added.