Turkish Government's Proposed Internet Bill during the COVID-19 Pandemic aims to bring more Restrictions on Social Media Platforms
Prepared by: Ali Guden
Turkey is taking the forefront for the usage of social media platforms. This is demonstrated by a report called Digital 2020 by We Are Social; which is an internet and social media analysis organisation, stating that the internet users in Turkey spend their time on the internet nearly 2 hours 51 minutes. Within the estimated timeframe that people spend on the internet in Turkey takes the country to listing 15th in the world. As for the government, the safety of the internet publications and the protection of the users is hard to maintain. In order to restrict and obtain more current information relating to internet publications, government proposed a new bill that contains restrictions and penalties.

In the middle of the COVID-19 virus crisis, Turkish government proposed an amendment to the country's existing internet law under the "Government Bill on Amendment in Certain Laws". The proposed bill covers additional measures taken to combating COVID-19 and sets out new regulations that closely concern all social media networks. Within the scope of the proposed changes, real and legal persons who enable users to create, share or view content, information or data such as text, image, sound, location for the purpose of social interaction on the internet are defined as "social network providers". Social media platforms are scheduled to be delegated and to host users' data in Turkey. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are required to appoint a representative in Turkey. The arrangement is expected to come to the Turkish Parliament's agenda next week.

In accordance with the proposed amendments; "It is a common problem in practice to find a competent interlocutor for content or location providers to remove or block access to illegal content on social media, or too late to find it. The law No. 5651 does not include any regulation on this subject. Therefore, it is aimed to fill this gap in the law." The proposed amendments also will also give more power to the Information Technology and Communication Authority ("BTK") in Turkey to conduct an investigation at the scene of the incident if it deems it necessary to check whether the obligations of ground providers under the law have been fulfilled. The supervisors and officers of law enforcement agencies and other public agencies will be assisting BTK's inspection teams.

  • If social networks do not meet the obligation to have representatives, traffic bands will be narrowed.
  • The possibility of making personal applications for content on social media has also been provided.
  • If content that is legally required to be removed is not removed, the social network provider will pay compensation.

We aim to examine in more details the aforementioned amendments below;

The Article 53 of Law No. 5651 dated 04.05.2007 on the Regulations of Internet Publications and Combating Crimes Committed Through These Publications states that; the following clause was added to come after the subclause (r) of the first paragraph of the second article.

"(s) Social network provider: real or legal persons who enable users to create, view or share data such as text, image, sound, location on the internet for the purpose of social interaction,"

The Article 56 of Law No. 5651 on the Regulation of Internet Publications and Combating Crimes Committed through These Publications states that; the following additional article was added to Article 4:

(1) In order to fulfil the requirements of notices, claims or requests to be sent by the social network provider, institution, Union, judicial or administrative authorities which have more than one million daily access from Turkey and to answer the applications to be made by the persons under this law, the authorized person is obliged to identify at least one person as a representative in Turkey and to inform the institution of the identity and contact information of that person.
The social networking provider gives this person's contact information on the website in a way that is easily visible and directly accessible. The social network provider who does not fulfil the obligation to identify and notify the representative set out in the first paragraph shall be notified by the Institution.

(2) If the obligation to appoint and notify Representatives is not fulfilled within thirty days of the notification, the authority may apply to the court for the reduction of the internet traffic bandwidth of the social network provider by fifty percent.

Decisions made by the judge are sent to the authority to be notified to the access providers. Decisions are made by access providers immediately and within four hours of notification. If the obligation to appoint and notify the representative is fulfilled, the decision shall be null and void.

(3) The social network provider, which has daily access to more than one million people from Turkey, either domestic or international, is obliged to respond to the applications to be made by individuals for the content covered by Articles 9 and 9/A of this law within 72 hours at the latest from the date of application.

(4) The social network provider, which has more than one million daily access from Turkey, either domestic or international, reports to the institution quarterly containing statistical and categorical information on the application of the decisions to remove and/or block access to the content reported to it and the applications covered by the third paragraph.

(5) The social network provider, which has more than one million daily access from Turkey, either domestic or international, is responsible for hosting the data of the users in Turkey.

(6) The president shall apply administrative fines ranging from one hundred thousand Turkish Liras to one million Turkish Liras to the social network provider who does not fulfil the obligation under the third paragraph of this article.

The president shall apply administrative fines ranging from one million Turkish Liras to five million Turkish Liras to the social network provider who does not fulfil the obligation under the fourth or fifth paragraph of this article.

(7) If the content found to be unlawful by a judge or court decision is reported to the social network provider, the social network provider, who does not remove the content or block access to the content within 24 hours despite the notification, is responsible for compensation for the damages caused.

(8) In the implementation of this article, the obligations of the social network provider shall not eliminate the responsibilities and obligations arising from the provider of content or location.

(9) The procedures and principles relating to the application of this article shall be regulated by the Institution ("BTK").

The most widely used social networks as seen in the current statistics in Turkey in the world ranking as follows:

  • 37 million users on Facebook
  • 38 million users on Instagram
  • 8.4 million users on LinkedIn
  • 7.7 million users on Snapchat
  • 11.8 million users on Twitter
  • 28.4 million users at TikTok

All these changes mean that if the bill is carried out as it stated above, social media providers with more than 1 million users in the Turkey must establish a representative office in Turkey. Turkish Government may also ask the social media providers to carry out their advertising and marketing communications / operations in Turkey.

Furthermore, social media networks will also be obligated to report to the BTK quarterly, with containing statistical and categorical information on the implementation of decisions made to remove the content and / or blocking access. Access to more than 1 million daily users from Turkey with domestic or foreign origin social networks, users will be forced to host their data in Turkey. Social networks that do not meet these obligations will be fined from 1 million to 5 million Turkish Liras.

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