The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is very concerned about a new social media bill under consideration by the Turkish Parliament. The legislation, which proposes amendments to existing law, was introduced on Monday, July 20, and contains several problematic provisions that are likely to significantly complicate the operation of social media services in Turkey and challenge the ability of Turkish citizens to freely exercise their rights to freedom of expression and privacy. Given these concerns, GNI calls on members of parliament and the government to seek further analysis and consultation before moving this legislation forward.

The GNI recognizes and appreciates the range of challenges that Internet users and governments face when grappling with illegal content online. Given the central role that social media services play in facilitating the dissemination of information in today’s world — which has only been highlighted and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic — lawmakers should take care to ensure that their actions do not unnecessarily or disproportionately compromise access to information online. Taking time to consider specific concerns and to consult broadly, including with civil society, on the most effective ways to address them will lead to more proportionate, lasting solutions that minimize impacts on users’ rights.

The proposed amendments would reportedly require certain social media companies to establish local offices and store user data within Turkey. The requirement to establish local offices is unnecessary and the consequences for failing to do so (which can include orders to ban advertisement on social media services and throttle 90% of a service’s bandwidth) are disproportionate. Such a penalty amounts effectively to a network disruption, which could lead to millions of dollars in economic losses per day to the Turkish economy,[1] in addition to unquantifiable impacts on users’ rights. The data localization mandate is also unnecessary, technically onerous, and raises significant privacy concerns. Finally, the law’s rigid and short timelines for, and increased penalties for failing to comply with, removal orders will make it more difficult for social media services to effectively prioritize and address the most problematic content on their platforms, leading to unintended consequences, including in particular for media and journalistic platforms. Taken together, these provisions create significant pressure on social media companies to comply with removal orders, even in circumstances where the orders are not justified under the law, would be disproportionate in application, or otherwise provide insufficient information for review.

GNI has consistently raised concerns about proposals to compel local representation, data localization, and arbitrary and inflexible removal timelines on the grounds that they create unnecessary and disproportionate impacts on users’ rights. It is worth noting that the French Constitutional Council and various courts around the world have recently invalidated laws that regulate online content on these same grounds. In order to ensure that Turkey acts consistently with its international obligations and avoids creating disproportionate economic and social consequences, we ask that parliamentarians extend the period for and allow greater debate and deliberation on these proposed amendments. GNI stands ready to engage in open, transparent consultations and to otherwise support responsible and rights-respecting content regulation.

[1] According to NetBlocks Costs of Shutdowns Tool (COST), the economic costs of shutting down a large social media service in Turkey would be close to $14 million per day.