Facebook and Instagram have announced they will defy Turkey’s new social media regulations that took effect October 1, a human rights activists said on Monday.
“Facebook has decided not to assign a representative to Turkey [which is a requirement] under the new social media law. Let me announce it to those [Turkish authorities] who were assuming that they [Internet platform companies] would [comply with the rules] whether they liked them or not,” Yaman Akdeniz said on Twitter.
A prominent cyber rights expert and academic, Akdeniz said it was not speculation but an announcement as Facebook had directly informed him and was announcing its decision to nongovernmental organizations in the country. Akdeniz further claimed that Instagram would follow Facebook’s approach as well.
It remains to be seen how the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government will react and whether other giant companies, such as Twitter and Google, will follow the same path as Facebook and Instagram.
The activist said the decisions of Facebook and Instagram would surely influence other Internet platform companies.
Akdeniz went on to say the law had been approved so quickly in the Turkish parliament that no consultation was carried out with stakeholders, a situation posing serious risks in terms of basic rights and freedoms in the country.
“I was hoping that they would decide in this way. I don’t think it was easy because there are business interests [in Turkey for Facebook]. … It will be a major blow to Turkey’s plan to control social media,” the Financial Times (FT) quoted Akdeniz as saying.
The new law was approved in only 10 days by parliament in July, shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned that he would either control or completely shut down social media platforms over “immoral content” following insults on Twitter that targeted his daughter Esra and son-in-law, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak.
The bill requires platform companies with more than a million daily active users in Turkey to maintain a formal presence in the country by appointing a local representative who will be accountable to Turkish authorities. The companies will also be required to store user data locally, raising privacy concerns as it means they will be providing prosecutors with user data when required. In addition, they will have to remove content deemed offensive within 48 hours without a local court decision but based on reports by social media users who believe the disputed content violates their rights.
The decisions of Facebook and Instagram could result in sanctions, including fines of up to 40 million Turkish lira ($5.1 million) and a slowing of bandwidth by as much as 90 percent, which means in effect inaccessibility to the websites for 83 million people living in the country.
According to FT, Facebook declined to comment on its decision. Twitter also declined when approached for comment on whether it would follow Facebook. As for Google’s YouTube, it did not immediately return calls for comment. The newspaper could not reach the Turkish Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) for comment late on Monday.
Facebook claims to have 37 million users in Turkey and runs its Turkey-related services from its London office.
Access to online platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp, has been temporarily blocked many times in Turkey since 2014, usually after incidents such as mass demonstrations or terrorist attacks as well as a coup attempt in 2016.
Turkey was one of the few countries where access to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia was entirely blocked. Turkish authorities lifted a two-and-a-half-year ban on Wikipedia following a ruling by the Constitutional Court earlier this year.