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Concerns of censorship grow in Turkey after parliament approves new social media regulation law

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is applauding lawmakers' final speeches on a bill giving the government greater powers to regulate social media
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is applauding lawmakers' final speeches on a bill giving the government greater powers to regulate social media   -   Copyright  Pool Turkish Presidency/AP
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Turkey’s parliament voted a law early on Wednesday that saw a further tightening of the country's rules on social media.

Major companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, will be required to have offices in Turkey to deal with complaints against content on their platforms.

Representatives of the platforms will have to remove or block content within 24 hours and respond to individual requests to take down posts violating privacy and personal rights within 48 hours.

The new legislation also states that user data must be stored in Turkey.

Steep fines, advertising bans and bandwidth reductions (up to 90%) will be applied in case of non-compliance with the law.

Another attack on freedom of expression

Human rights activists have expressed concern over what they consider another step towards authoritarianism.

"From now on, the content of dissenting news sites is targeted first, and all news that the government and politicians do not like will be deleted and the past will be cleared. This is the goal, not to protect citizens," tweeted Yaman Akdeniz, professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University.

“It is essential for everyone who values and champions free speech to recognize how damaging these new restrictions will be in a country where an autocracy is being constructed by silencing media and all critical voices," said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.

The presidency under Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been seeking to introduce this bill for months vowing to “control social media platforms” and eradicate immorality in order to combat cybercrime and protect users.

Turkey leads the world in removal requests to Twitter, with 6,073 demands in the first half of 2019.

From April 2017 to January 2020, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia was blocked after entries the government said described Turkey as a sponsor of terrorism.

Dozens of journalists and media outlet's workers are currently in jail. Turkey is among the "the world's worst jailers" along with China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.