Turkey has fined top social media firms, including Facebook and Twitter, 10 million lire (€1.1m) each for failing to appoint a representative able to address complaints from state authorities, as required by a new social media law, deputy transport and infrastructure minister Ömer Fatih Sayan said on Wednesday (4 November).
The Turkish parliament, in July, passed a controversial legislation which aims to further strengthen state control of online platforms and users’ data in the country.
The new law demanded foreign social media companies with more than one million users in Turkey to store their users’ data in the country, and open an office staffed by at least one representative responsible for investigations and legal proceedings before a deadline of 1 October.
Additionally, the law forces social networks to remove content found to be offensive by Turkish authorities within 48 hours.
“Foreign companies operating in Turkey that reach more than one million people daily have been told about some rules they need to comply with,” Sayan said on Twitter.
“With the legal period ending, social network providers that did not report a representative, namely Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, YouTube, and TikTok, have been fined 10 million lire,” he added.
However, fines are just one of the series of court-ordered penalties “to encourage compliance” of social networks.
Those companies that fail to comply in 30 days from the formal notice will face an extra fine of 30 million lire (€3.3m), a ban on advertising, or having their bandwidth slashed by 50 or 90 percent by Turkish internet providers, essentially blocking access.
Social media platforms that have not appointed a representative will face extra fines in December that will lead to an advertisement ban in January and, finally, to a bandwidth cut that would begin in April, law professor and digital rights activist Yaman Akdeniz said on Twitter.
“This is the start of a long process, rather than the end of the story,” Akdeniz said.
Akdeniz also described the situation as ironic since Turkish officials decided to use Twitter to announce the fines.
“I just wonder: if Twitter decides to not assign a representative in Turkey despite the fines, when would the government officials stop using Twitter and close their [own] accounts?,” he tweeted.
Sayan said the aim of the Turkish authorities was not “to be in conflict with these providers serving billions of people around the world”, but to ensure that social media networks followed the rules as they do in other countries.
If companies complied with the new rules, Sayan said that all restrictions will be lifted and only one-fourth of the 10 million lire administrative fines would be collected.
So far, only the Russian version of Facebook, VKontakte, appointed a representative before the deadline.
A report published earlier this year by the Istanbul-based Freedom of Expression Association indicates that 408,494 websites, and some 7,000 Twitter accounts, 40,000 tweets, 10,000 YouTube videos and 6,200 Facebook posts were already, legally, blocked in the country only last year.
In 2016, a Turkish man was senteced with one-year jail for comparing president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Gollum character from the Lord of the Rings since the Turkish penal code states that anybody who insults Turkey’s president can face up to four years in prision.
Turkey is ranked 154 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.