The Turkish parliament swiftly approved a new law regulating social media at the end of July, after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned earlier in the month that he would shut down social media platforms over “immoral content.” The law takes effect today, October 1, and has implications for the localization industry and its social media clients.
According to the law, foreign social media platforms with over one million daily active users are required to open offices in Turkey, with legal representatives appointed to field concerns around content that Turkish authorities take exception to. Companies will have 48 hours to comply with requests to remove content that is deemed unsavory. The law also requires user data to be stored in Turkey.
Companies that run afoul of the law risk severe penalties, including fines of up to more than $700,000, the blocking of advertisements, or having bandwidth slashed by as much as 90%.
The Turkish government claims that the new law is necessary to fight cybercrime and protect social media users, particularly women, from harassment and bullying. Critics fear, however, that the law will allow the state to increase censorship, target individuals, and silence dissent. A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the law “would give the state powerful tools for asserting even more control over the media landscape.”
This is just the latest move toward more sweeping media restrictions and censorship in a country where over 90% of conventional media is now controlled by conglomerates with close ties to the government. Last September, legislation came into effect placing streaming services such as Netflix under the regulatory control of Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council, whose rules state that programming cannot be contrary to the national and moral values of Turkish society.
Might foreign social media companies simply opt to leave the Turkish market rather than comply with requests to enforce restrictive censorship laws that are at odds with their own corporate values and the values of their home markets? Such a decision would not be without precedent. Wikipedia refused requests from Turkish authorities to edit several English-language articles that described Turkey as a sponsor country for ISIS and Al-Qaeda, resulting in a three-year ban of the site that lasted until January of this year. And, in July of this year, when Netflix was denied permission to produce their original Turkish drama If Only in the country because one of the characters was gay, they chose to cancel production rather than modifying the script.
Even for companies that do wish to comply with the new regulations, the bureaucracy, expense, and risk involved in doing so may greatly outweigh any gains from remaining in an under-monetized or non-monetized emerging market such as Turkey under such draconian rules.
Turks are already aware that holding views in opposition to the government can have harsh consequences, as detailed in a recent MultiLingual magazine story. The greatest question in the end is not how the new law will affect social media companies themselves, but how it may erode the last bastion of freedom of expression and dissent online, and move many Turks to self-censor.