Google companies

Social media companies may resist Turkey’s new ‘disinformation law’

Reuters

Social media companies are unlikely to fully comply with Turkey’s new law requiring them to remove ‘misinformation’ content and share user data with authorities, analysts say, raising specter of possible disruption of the platform ahead of next year’s elections.

Facebook, Twitter, Google and others are required to fully comply with the law by next April or risk potential advertising bans and possible bandwidth cuts, posing a dilemma for companies ahead of elections scheduled for June.

Analysts and consultants said the companies have global privacy standards that they are unlikely to violate in Turkey, as it could set dangerous precedents for other countries seeking to exert control over social platforms.

“Some of these companies are unlikely to comply with the law,” said Sinan Ülgen, founding partner of Istanbul Economics, which consults on regulatory and legal affairs.

It’s “because of the onerous requirements and what it would mean for their privacy and data privacy standards, and also to set a precedent that can be used in other jurisdictions,” he said.

Under the law, which took effect this week, companies must share user information with authorities if they post content that constitutes a crime, including misleading information.

Social media companies are required to appoint Turkish representatives. They face bandwidth throttling of up to 90% immediately after a court order if the representative fails to provide information to the authorities.

Critics of the law say it could tighten the government’s grip on social media, one of the last bastions of free speech and dissent in Turkey after 20 years of rule by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and of his ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The AKP and its nationalist allies supported the law. The opposition has dubbed it “the censorship law” and says it could influence the June parliamentary and presidential elections, which polls show Erdogan could lose.

The law has mainly been criticized for imposing prison terms on social media users and journalists spreading “disinformation”, but it also builds on legislation imposed on social media companies in 2020, with measures much more stringent.

For example, companies will be held “directly responsible” for “illegal” content and tags if they do not remove them within four hours of the authorities’ request.

Social media is already under strict scrutiny, with people frequently put on trial for posts such as those criticizing Turkey’s incursions into Syria or seen as insulting the president.

A Reuters investigation recently showed how pressure from the authorities and self-censorship have turned Turkey’s mainstream media into a tight chain of command of government-sanctioned headlines.

Social media companies have so far been able to comply with the 2020 law by creating small corporate entities in Turkey that they could easily withdraw if pressured, said cyber rights expert and professor Yaman Akdeniz. at Istanbul Bilgi University.

These laws were a “soft transition” but now the government has made them much more serious with the new bill, he added.

“If you accept all of this, you are part of law enforcement because you are expected to help with everything,” he said.

Companies can be fined up to 3% of their worldwide turnover if they fail to comply with the law, as well as advertising bans.

Akdeniz said authorities are unlikely to impose penalties such as strangulation immediately, but will start with smaller steps such as fines. However, he said the possibility of tougher measures poses a constant threat to businesses.

Twitter declined to comment on its approach to the law. Meta Platforms, owner of Facebook, Google’s Alphabet and Tiktok did not respond to requests for comment.

Sezen Yeşil, Meta’s public policy director for Turkey and Azerbaijan, told a parliamentary committee in June that there were uncertainties about how the laws will be implemented.

Pelin Kuzey Karaman, director of government relations and public policy for Google in Turkey, told the commission he had made “maximum efforts” to comply with the 2020 law.

“Unfortunately, those efforts that we made at the maximum level only 1.5 to 2 years ago will be almost in vain…with the bill. As Google, we really see this as a sad development”, she said. according to the minutes of the meeting.

Under the new law, providers of network services such as Meta-owned messaging app WhatsApp, which is ubiquitous in Turkey, are also required to set up a local business. The law places them under the authority of the Information and Communications Technology Authority (ICTA), which can block them if they operate without permission.

“I think (the law) is like a wish list – they put everything they can think of on it,” Akdeniz said. “There is an attempt to regulate social media platforms which could be a model law for authoritarian regimes.”