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Turkey passes controversial social media bill

Turkey passes controversial social media bill

Under the new act, social media companies can face fines, blocked advertisements and slashed bandwidths for not complying with the government.

In a widely-expected move, Turkey’s parliament passed a law to regulate social media in the country, one that would increase censorship and silence dissent, according to critics. The law was backed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and was considered as good as passed even before the assembly debate on it began on Tuesday. The decision, ironically, was announced on Twitter.

The law would require social media sites, especially the foreign ones, to have onboard Turkish representatives who can quickly address government concerns over content and even remove them within stipulated deadlines. Non-compliance could mean fines, blocks ads and bandwidths slashed by over 90%.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government already has a complicated relationship with social media. He even claimed that “immoral acts” were increasing online due to lack of regulation. With most mainstream media coming under government control over the past decade, social media remains the last bastion for critical voices and independent news.

The government has done its best to infiltrate this space as well. There is heavy over-sight on these sites with people routinely being charged for insulting the president or his ministers or undermining government policies like military interventions or pandemic response. Twitter says Turkey came only second globally in court orders and other kinds of legal demands asking the company to comply in regard to content moderation.

Twitter had also revealed last month that a large number of pro-government fake accounts were being operated, possibly under the aegis of the ruling party, in order to amplify propaganda and troll dissidents. This had irked the government a great deal.

Naturally the government line is that this new law will not lead to more censorship but improve their ties with social media platforms. As for digital crimes, these would reflect crimes in the real world like terrorism propaganda, insults and violation of personal rights.

Human rights and free speech agencies world over have condemned this law. Amnesty International called it “the most brazen attack on free expression in Turkey”. Human Rights Watch said it signalled “a new dark era of online censorship” and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the law will “give the state powerful tools for asserting even more control over the media landscape”.

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