LONDON: YouTube has set up an office in Turkey, bowing to pressure to comply with a new law which critics have described as “draconian,” making it easier for the government to suppress free speech.
The law, passed by the Turkish government in July, requires social media companies to abide by new rules by April next year or face hefty fines and a reduction of internet bandwidth to as low as 90 percent.
The law came into effect in October and YouTube, along with other social media channels such as Facebook and TikTok, have already been fined a total of 30 million lira ($3.9 million) for non-compliance in November and December, The Times reported.
The company said in a statement that it had “thoroughly analyzed” the new law, which requires platforms with more than 1 million users in Turkey to set up a local office with the power to remove content.
YouTube added it was opening an office in Turkey to continue to assist the tens of thousands of “successful creators who contribute to a thriving creative economy.”
The provider, which insisted no changes to how it handled content removal requests would be made, said: “This step toward compliance will not change how YouTube reviews content removal requests, nor will it change how YouTube handles or holds user data.
“Currently, we review government removal requests when notified through the correct legal processes and disclose these requests in our transparency report, in keeping with our stance on transparency,” it added.
The regulations have been criticized by the International Press Institute, which labeled the attempt to “establish complete control over social media and critical content by the government” as “draconian,” the Financial Times (FT) reported.
Speaking to the FT, Yaman Akdeniz, a Turkish academic and cyber rights campaigner, voiced concern about the decision, saying it would impact independent and opposition commentators who were sidelined by the pro-government mainstream media in Turkey.
The law was originally proposed after a joke about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s daughter and son-in-law went viral on Twitter.
Since an attempted coup in 2016, Erdogan has put pressure on the country’s judiciary to bring cases against people who were deemed to have “insulted” the president.