Turkey punishes Twitter, Pinterest over new ‘censorship’ law

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Turkey on Tuesday hit Twitter, Pinterest and Periscope with advertising bans after they failed to follow Facebook and appoint a local representative to take down contentious posts under a new media law, AFP and Turkish media outlets reported.

Freedom of speech defenders warn the law is part of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to control social media and stop any dissent against his government.

The social media legislation passed last year meant networks with over a million users had to appoint a representative to handle court orders to remove offending content within 48 hours.

The bans on the three platforms came into force Tuesday, while companies that advertise with them will also be fined, Turkey’s deputy infrastructure minister Omer Fatih Sayan tweeted.

Ankara is “determined to do whatever is necessary to protect our people’s data, privacy and rights,” Sayan added.

“We will never allow digital fascism and rule-breaking to dominate in Turkey,” he said.

If the networks continue to ignore the law, Turkey will cut their bandwidth by 50 percent in April then 90 percent by May, thus rendering them effectively inaccessible.

Some platforms that failed to comply by the first deadline last November, including Facebook and Twitter, were hit with millions of dollars in fines.

Facebook said Monday it would appoint a local representative but recognized “how important it is for our platform to be a place where users can exercise their freedom of expression.”

It joins YouTube, TikTok and Dailymotion in compliance, drawing anger from activists. Facebook’s Russian equivalent VK opened a local office in November.

Milena Buyum, Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner, said Monday that “Facebook’s decision leaves them — and Google, Youtube and others — in serious danger of becoming an instrument of state censorship.”

Research shows that as Erdogan’s grip on the mainstream media tightened, especially since he survived a failed coup in 2016, younger people have sought information online, especially on social media.

Although Turkey named Periscope in the decisions, Twitter last month said its mobile app for live streaming video would shut down by March as usage had declined.

The “cyber world … has become a threat to humanity,” Erdogan warned last week, promising commitment to a “cyber homeland” as part of Turkey’s defense.

“Those who control data can establish their digital dictatorships by disregarding democracy, the law, rights and freedoms,” the president added.

Turkey is the world leader in Twitter censorship

Erdogan’s Turkey leads the world in Twitter censorship according to transparency report data for the years 2012 to 2020, submitting the largest number of takedown requests and court orders.

Court orders and other legal demands combined, the country sent 45,776 requests to Twitter. Japan followed Turkey with 38,941 and Russia with 30,436.

Twitter received 6,513 court orders and 39,263 non-court order requests from Turkey, which was at the top of the list in both categories. The country also sent 347 information requests to Twitter, which did not comply with any of them.

Turkey specified 99,840 accounts for closure/action under court orders and other legal demands, leading the world in the number of accounts identified for legal action.

In terms of accounts withheld by Twitter, Turkey again had the highest number globally with 2,501 withheld accounts, followed by Russia with 340 and India with 238. On Turkey’s request, Twitter withheld 12,135 tweets, nearly half the total number of tweets withheld by the company.

According to research carried out by the Freedom of Expression Association’s (İFÖD) EngelliWeb initiative, by the end of 2019 Turkey had blocked access to 408,494 websites, 130,000 URLs, 10,000 YouTube videos and 6,200 pieces of Facebook content.

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