Turkey Says Facebook Risks Fines If Flouts New Social Media Law

(Bloomberg) — Turkey will penalize Facebook with escalating fines and could make it excrutiatingly slow to use the platform if the company flouts a new social media law that could be used to stifle dissent.

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Buildings on the skyline of the European side sit on the horizon, framed beneath a Turkish flag flying from the Asian side, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, April 27, 2020. Coming off a brief recession just over a year ago, the urgency is mounting for Turkey to loosen the screws on the economy as its currency and reserves come under pressure more than a month after it introduced social-distancing measures.

A senior Turkish official said The Menlo Park, California-based company had not formally told the government whether or not it would not be appointing a local representative.

But the social media giant will face an initial 10 million lira ($1.3 million) fine on Nov. 2 if it defied the rules and the penalties would increase as non-compliance continued, the official said, asking not to be identified speaking about confidential matters. Turkish law was clear on the new rules and the government planned to ensure companies met them, he added.

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Signage is displayed outside Facebook Inc. headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. Facebook Inc., which had warned of rising costs and slowing growth, reported quarterly revenue roughly in line with expectations and profit that beat analysts’ forecasts. And despite scandals around fake news and election interference, it added more users, too.

The Financial Times reported earlier this week that Facebook had told Turkish authorities it would not comply with the legislation, which went into effect last week and seeks to tighten control over social media by requiring companies to name a representative in Turkey and store some data from users on local servers.

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Those measures could give the government more leverage against critics in a country that already monitors social media closely and has previously hampered access to websites, including Twitter.

Facebook, which has around 37 million users in Turkey, found the new legislation to be too restrictive, according to the FT. Turkey’s ministry of infrastructure, which is responsible for enforcing the new law, declined to comment. Facebook headquarters in the U.S. declined to comment. It was not clear if other social media companies planned to comply.

Draconian Laws

Turkey’s parliament swiftly gave authorities new powers to tighten their grip on social media in July, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was infuriated by what he described as insults over the birth of his eighth grandchild.

Turkey Tightens Social Media Control After Erdogan Cries Foul

The law also requires social media companies to respond within 48 hours to requests to remove content, a broad power that allows authorities to block access to anything they might consider illegal. Companies that do not abide also risk having their Internet bandwidth slashed by as much as 90%, making the platform practically too slow to use, and Turkish firms could be banned from advertising with them.

Turkey already ranks behind Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Azerbaijan in Internet freedom, according to Freedom House, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization focusing on democracy and human rights.

Wikipedia was banned in the country for three years. It became available again in January after a top court ruled that the restriction violated free speech.

Turkey has detained and arrested many social media users with charges such as insulting Erdogan and harming the country by criticizing his government’s handling of the economy.

Erosion of trust in Turkish institutions is one reason why social media companies are shying away from having local representation, according to Yaman Akdeniz, a professor at Istanbul-based Bilgi University and cyber rights campaigner.

The government’s tactics to scare the companies into submission will backfire as most of them generate tax income, he said.

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