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Turkey slaps social media networks with millions of dollars' worth of fines

Ankara took the step after companies such as Facebook and Twitter failed to assign a legal representative in the country as new law requires
The Turkish government believes the social media network providers would eventually submit papers to assign legal representatives (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

The Turkish government has imposed millions of dollars' worth of fines on social media giants for failing to meet a deadline of assigning a legal representative in the country, as required by a new law.

The controversial law had been in the planning for a while, but it had quickly been brought to parliament in July after some users had insulted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s newborn grandson and daughter on Twitter.

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The incident prompted Erdogan to threaten to completely ban social media sites.

Critics have warned the law would increase censorship and help silence dissent. Yet the government and the supporters of the new regulation have argued that it would accelerate the legal process to protect personal data and privacy, and remove libellous content.

Turkish Deputy Transport and Infrastructure Minister Omer Fatih Sayan said that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, YouTube and TikTok had failed to register a legal representative and therefore each of them was now required to pay a $1.175m fine.

“If they don’t meet their legal obligation in 30 days from the formal notice, there would be an administrative monetary penalty of $3.5m for each social media company,” he said in a series of tweets.

If companies still refused to assign a representative, the government could gradually limit their advertising sales and restrict their user access by up to 90 percent, effectively banning them.

Turkey 'not in a fight' with social media

Sayan, whose ministry has an authority over the country's information technology and communications regulator, said he believed that the social media network providers would eventually submit papers for legal representatives.

'We want [social media firms] to value our citizens’ requests as they do in other countries'

- Omer Fatih Sayan, Turkish government minister

“We aren’t in a fight against these companies that serve billions of people all around the world,” he said. “We want [them] to value our citizens’ requests as they do in other countries.”

The new law also requires social networks with more than 1 million accounts to respond to user disputes from Turkey in the Turkish language, provide a written answer within 48 hours on cases that involve the exposure of personal information or personal insults, store user information in Turkey and release a report every six months on the disputes filed by the users.

Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor and cyberactivist, said that it was ironic for Turkish officials to announce the fine on Twitter.

“I just wonder: if Twitter decides to not assign a representative in Turkey despite the fines, when would the government officials stop using Twitter and close their accounts?,” he tweeted. 

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