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Facebook refuses to establish local office as Turkey’s new social media law kicks in

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Facebook and other social media companies have reportedly refused to comply with a new regulation in Turkey that requires them to establish a formal presence within the country and greatly increases their liability for harmful content, reported the Financial Times. The new legislation went into effect on October 1.

Obligations under the new social media law: Passed in the Turkish parliament in July, the new law requires social media companies to:

  1. Store users’ personal data within the country (this applies to those with over 1 million users daily), and appoint a local representative to be answerable to the government
  2. Respond to complaints about content within 48 hours
  3. Implement court orders within 24 hours, among other things

Penalties and punitive measures for defiance: If internet companies do not comply, they can face penalties and have their bandwidth throttled by 90% in another six months, effectively barring users from accessing the platform. With the law now becoming effective, the Turkish government can throttle non-compliant platforms, pressuring them further each month. According to Turkish cyber rights activist Yaman Adeniz, companies who refuse comply will:

  • Face penalties of 10 million Turkish lira and 30 million Turkish lira in November and December 2020.
  • An advertising ban will kick in in January 2021
  • This will be followed by reducing bandwidth by 50% in April and 90% in May 2021.

Human rights activists had urged technology companies to not bow down to requirements that they described as “draconian” and as another attempt by Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to chill free speech. Erdogan already tightly controls conventional media platforms in the country.

Earlier this year, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had declared that “immoral” social media platforms must be either “completely banned or controlled” after personal attacks were made on Twitter against his daughter and son-in-law after the birth of their fourth child.

The Turkish parliament soon passed a controversial bill that requires technology companies with more than 1 million daily users in Turkey to store data locally and appoint a local representative who would be accountable to the government. The Erdogan government had argued that the social media law was necessary because technology companies have failed to act against criminal activity such as sexual abuse, illegal gambling, fraud and support for terrorism.

India has also asked for local storage, diluting safe harbour

Turkey’s new rules for social media are eerily similar to India’s changes to the Intermediary Liability guidelines amendment 2018, which sought to increase liability on social media platforms for what their users posted on them. India had also proposed that companies will over 5 million “users” have a registered office in India with a nodal contact for law enforcement coordination. The proposed rules, which remain in limbo since December 2018, also required that internet intermediaries remove unlawful content within 24 hours of getting “actual knowledge”.

Moreover, the government also wanted intermediaries to proactively monitor what user content remove unlawful content.

Separately, the Indian government has begun implementing local storage for data of Indian users. First proposed in the first iteration of the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) mandated storage of all payments related data within local servers starting October 2018. The latest version of the Personal Data Protection Bill dilutes local storage requirements, but still requires it for critical personal data.

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