Biggest Social Media Companies Are Fined by Turkey Under New Law

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Turkey has fined five giant social-media companies for failing to appoint a local representative required by new laws that activists say are an attempt to stifle dissent.

Facebook Inc., YouTube Inc., Twitter Inc., Instagram Inc. and TikTok Inc. were fined 10 million liras ($1.2 million) for non-compliance on Tuesday, according to a senior Turkish official who’s directly familiar with the matter. The companies have been notified, the official said without elaborating, and could face future penalties if they fail to act on the regulations.

Only the Russian version of Facebook, VKontakte, named a local representative by the Nov. 2 deadline, the official said Wednesday.

Turkey’s Transportation and Infrastructure Ministry, which oversees cyber regulations, didn’t immediately comment on the development.

Wikipedia Ban

Authorities in Turkey have regularly arrested social-media users on charges including insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and harming the country by criticizing his government’s handling of the economy.

They have also hit out directly at major platforms, with Wikipedia banned in the country for three years until January, when a top court ruled that the restriction violated free speech. Access to Twitter has been hampered.

Opposition parties accuse the government of becoming increasingly authoritarian since a failed 2016 coup and Erdogan’s move from prime minister to a presidency with sweeping executive power.

Parliament moved to strengthen laws governing social media in July after Erdogan was infuriated by what he described as insults over the birth of his eighth grandchild.

Insisting on companies appointing a local representative gives officials more leverage over content, according to according to Freedom House, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization focusing on democracy and human rights.

The “new law coerces social media platforms to comply with censorship and surveillance, effectively extinguishing channels of free speech,” it said.

Under the strengthened regulations, social media companies also have to respond within 48 hours to requests to remove content, a broad power that allows authorities to block access to anything they consider illegal.

Firms that don’t comply also risk having their Internet bandwidth slashed by as much as 90%, making the platform practically too slow to use. Turkish firms could also be banned from advertising with them.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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