Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is being criticized for strengthening his control over social media, has called on giant social media companies to act in line with a controversial law his government pushed forward and appoint local representatives in Turkey.
His remarks came in a video message aired during the TRT World Forum on Tuesday.
“We have been emphasizing that no company or individual is above the law. We are requiring social media companies to appoint representatives in our country. We aim to protect our citizens, particularly children, who are more vulnerable than adults. We hope they respond to our request voluntarily. Otherwise, we will continue to protect the rights of our citizens in all instances,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its opposition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party, pressed for the new social media law, arguing that it would end the insult and harassment of individuals on social media.
The new social media law, which went into effect on Oct. 1, is feared to be used to silence dissent in Turkey, where there are widespread concerns about freedom of expression, as the law requires social media companies to respond within 48 hours to requests to remove content, a broad power that allows authorities to block access to anything they might consider illegal.
In a controversial move in early November, Turkey imposed fines of TL 10 million ($1.17 million) each on social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for failing to comply with the new social media law and appoint a local representative within the stated period.
In his speech Erdoğan also hinted that his control over social media will be further strengthened, saying digitalization without supervision and open to arbitrariness could lead to “fascism.” He said while expanding the scope of freedoms, digitalization should not lead to new injustices and unfairness.
“Unfortunately, serious problems have emerged with the extensive use of social media platforms over the past years. Through the formation of a totally unsupervised venue under the pretext of ‘unlimited freedom,’ new victimizations are taking place,” said Erdoğan.
In Turkey, where there are growing concerns about diminishing freedom of expression, prosecution of individuals due to their social media messages is an everyday occurrence. Thousands of people stand trial or face legal action on insult charges due to their critical views on social media about President Erdoğan and government officials.