(New York, NY) — The passage of an aggressive new social media law in Turkey presents a direct and multifaceted threat to free expression. The legislation, which bears superficial resemblance to Germany’s NetzDG law targeting disinformation, will do significantly more damage by enabling politically influenced censorship, the chilling of free expression, and the potential for mass and politically motivated surveillance, PEN America said today.

The legislation to amend the Law on the Regulation of Publications made on the Internet and Combating Crimes Committed Through These Publications (İnternet ortamında yapılan Yayınların Düzenlenmesi ve Bu Yayınlar Yoluyla İşlenen Suçlarla Mücadele Edilmesi Hakkında Kanun) was introduced July 1, after allegedly offensive comments about Turkish President Erdoğan’s daughter surfaced on social media. Among its key provisions, the law:

  • Requires social media companies with more than one million daily users to establish domestic representatives. Non-compliant companies will face escalating penalties, including fines and bandwidth restrictions.
  • Creates judicial authority to demand removal of content that is deemed offensive or a violation of personal privacy. Individual citizens can sue social media networks for alleged violations, and if the companies do not comply within 48 hours they will be fined 5 million lira ($700,000). 
  • Creates financial liability for the costs of subsequent legal proceedings for content that is not removed.
  • Companies need to produce 6-month reports of complaints received; if they do not, they will be subject to a 10 million lira fine, or $1.4 million USD.
  • Companies must store local users’ data in Turkey. 

“Combined, these overly broad provisions not only build on the Erdoğan government’s previous incursions into online free expression but will create a devil’s bargain for platforms choosing to operate in Turkey: anticipate the ruling party’s needs and remove or block anything politically inconvenient, or forego operation in Turkey entirely,” said PEN America’s digital freedom program director Matt Bailey. “The result could be proactive commercial censorship, prolonged and uncertain judicial appeals processes, and state incursions on privacy and online anonymity. For the Turkish people, it may well mean an even narrower space in which they can speak freely. ”

The new law will take effect on October 1.