Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in a televised address in Ankara, Turkey, on July 1, 2020. The ruling Justice and Development Party recently proposed a bill strengthening control of social media platforms. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

Turkey proposes social media law, threatening press freedom

Istanbul, July 23, 2020—A draft bill to strengthen state control of social media platforms, as well as data about those who use them in Turkey, is a troubling sign in a country where journalists are routinely jailed for posting online, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The leading Justice and Development Party (AKP) proposed the law to the Turkish parliament on July 21, according to local news reports and a draft reviewed by CPJ. The draft said it would require social media companies with more than one million users in Turkey to store those users’ data in the country, and open offices staffed with local representatives. The text has yet to be finalized and reviewed in parliament, and the timeline for a vote on the bill is unclear.

The draft also said that the companies will be required to remove content that violates “personal rights” and the “privacy of personal life” from their sites within 48 hours of receiving a court order. Search engines could also be required to remove links to such content, the draft says.CPJ has documented Turkey’s frequent suppression of reporting that violates vague prohibitions on “suggestive” news or “propaganda.”

Companies that fail to comply may face court-ordered penalties, including fines of up to 30 million Turkish lira (US$4.4 million), or traffic to their platforms slowed or blocked by Turkish internet providers, according to the draft.

“Turkey’s social media bill is a blatant attempt to make international companies censor more news on behalf of Turkey’s leaders,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, in New York. “For years, social media posts have been used to prosecute Turkish journalists, and the proposed measures would put them even more at risk for sharing information with the public. We call on the Turkish parliament to reject this bill in its current form.” 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in early July that social media platforms “need to be brought into order,” according to media reports. “Such platforms don’t suit this country and our people. That’s why we want [them] completely shut or controlled after bringing the issue to our parliament,” he said, according to the reports. 

Turkish journalists have told CPJ that police investigate their social media activity to support bogus charges of links to terrorist organizations, driving Turkey’s record as one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists in CPJ’s research.

Turkey already exploits legal processes to remove journalism from social media, successfully petitioning Twitter to withhold dozens of accounts run by media outlets from view within Turkey in 2018, CPJ found. Recent transparency reports from Twitter and Reddit show that Turkish officials issued the companies with more requests to remove content than any other country.