Today, hardly anyone would argue that social media controlled by the US and its Western allies like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., are becoming increasingly active in the internal life of many countries, provoking mass protests and political unrest time and time again.
The Turkish leadership has recently begun to react quite sensitively to such actions taken by Western social media, especially after the attempted military coup in 2016, considering this information space was largely responsible for it. In addition, there is mixed reaction in regards to the Turkish President Erdogan’s policies in the Eastern Mediterranean, Syria, and Libya, as well as the activities of the presidential party in general. There is growing activity of discussion of these aspects in social media, causing a split in Turkish society and criticizing the actions of officials in Ankara.
At the end of June, the Turkish President held a youth outreach live stream on YouTube. As it turned out, the Turkish President received a large number of disapproving comments during this live stream. As a result, further comments were disabled. Out of the 2.5 million people who viewed the video with Erdogan, 380,000 people put “dislikes” and only 112,000 put “likes”.
Another wave of criticism directed at Western social media recently occurred from the Turkish leadership when Berat Albayrak, the President’s son-in-law, currently Minister of Finance and Treasury and married to President Erdogan’s daughter, published a message on Twitter about the birth of his fourth child. However, in addition to some positive reviews, he received a significant number of negative comments. On this occasion President Erdogan pointed out that law enforcement authorities started identifying the people who insulted Albayrak. As it has been emphasized by Erdogan, “we’ll bring them to justice for the crime they have committed… Do you understand now why we’re against social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Netflix? To get rid of these immoralities. Such platforms are not suitable for this country and our people. After bringing the issue to our parliament we want these social media platforms completely shut down or at least controlled.”
The charges brought against the social media users include insults to the President and state institutions, inciting riots, propaganda of terrorism, support for the ideas of Fethullah Gülen accused by the authorities in organizing the coup attempt in 2016, and support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced his intention to bring in a law restricting or closing down social media sites spreading false news and slander. In May, Turkey’s Presidential Complex published its Guidebook for Social Media Use: 161 pages that lay out the “correct, healthy and secure use” of social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Against the background of recent events involving social media, President Erdogan said that the Parliament will soon introduce a bill that will “completely abolish” or “control” YouTube, Twitter and other foreign social media. “Channels where lies, slander, personal right attacks and reputation conspiracies are out of control must be brought into order,” Erdogan announced during his video conference with Justice and Development Party’s representatives. “We are determined to do whatever is necessary for social media platforms to set up fiscal and legal representation in our country,” Erdogan said. “We will implement access bans with legal and fiscal penalties after completion of the regulation.”
It follows on from the discussion that has already begun in Turkey on the future draft law on regulating foreign social networks in the country that the new legislative act will provide for changes to a number of existing national laws on cyberspace. The main issue that doesn’t suit Ankara at the moment, when it comes to foreign origin social media is the absence of a legal entity to which you could make claims and apply sanctions if it does not act.
In this regard, it is proposed to make foreign companies owning social media like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., which millions of Turkish users have access to, to be liable to open their representative offices in Turkey. Such legal entities, in fact, will have to bear responsibility for posting content on their platforms and take measures to prevent the dissemination of illegal information like promoting violence and terrorism, insulting society, inciting crime, etc. When the law comes into force and a company does not appoint its representative within 30 days, it is proposed to significantly reduce their Internet traffic, even up to the complete blocking of access to such network in Turkey.
Registered as legal entities, representatives of Western social media will have to pay income tax to the Turkish Treasury. Among others, the following responsibilities proposed to be assigned to social media are listed, in particular:
- provide data of the user who posted an illegal publication at the request of the Court;
- delete or block access to illegal content within 24 hours;
- respond to requests regarding publications violating the right to personal privacy. In the event of defaulting on claims, it is proposed to impose a fine – from 100 thousand to 1 million TL (15,000 – 150,000 USD).
As part of increasing the requirements for the activities of foreign social media, it is proposed to make them liable to store users’ personal data (e-mail, phone number) on the Turkish territory so that the authorities can get access to this information on request (so far, Ankara has not been able to achieve such data transfer). It is suggested to set up penalties for the infringement of this requirement starting from 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 TL (150,000 – 750,000 USD).
Considering the repeated accusations made by the Turkish leadership against social media regarding the publication of fake news, it is planned to reflect the provisions prohibiting the creation of fake accounts in the future law. At the same time, proposals to register in social media using an identity document have not been met with a consensus by Turkish lawmakers yet.
While drafting new laws, the lawmakers claim they often use the legal practice of other countries, especially Germany and France.
Feedback suggests Facebook and Instagram seem to be ready to open their legal representative offices in Turkey, but Twitter has not yet given a positive response.
Apart from foreign social media, the future law plans to regulate the activities of holding platforms such as on Prime, Puhu TV, BluTV and a number of others.
Turkey is not the only country concerned about how to regulate the activities of Western social media which have been repeatedly accused of waging information warfare, propaganda and influence on political processes in other countries to the benefit of the United States and its allies. No wonder the world is facing a restructuring of sorts, with social media changing under pressure or influence, as stated by the official representative of Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova on July 7.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.