The bill drafted by the government also proposes fines against social media platforms if they refuse to reveal info on anonymous accounts
A new social media bill being drafted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) proposes up to five years in prison, fines for social media platforms that refuse to provide information to authorities on anonymous accounts and establishment of a regulatory body on social media, according to recent reports in the Turkish media.
Speaking after a Cabinet meeting on 19 August, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated once again his support for the proposed bill, saying it was necessary to combat “lies and provocations” on social media. “We are determined, once Parliament reopens, to swiftly introduce a social media proposal similar to the legislation in place in Europe and to end the pollution in this area,” Erdoğan said.
Parliament is set to return from its recess on 1 October. The draft bill is expected to be enacted easily once it is brought to Parliament, given that AKP and its coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have the majority.
According to reports published in pro-government Türkiye newspaper this week, the authors of the bill have been studying similar legislation in place in Europe, particularly the anti-disinformation law of Germany. The report, which quoted unnamed AKP officials, said disinformation and misinformation will be introduced as offences in the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK) and that defamation on social media will be punishable by a prison term of three months to two years. Those who produce or spread “fake news” will face one to five years in prison.
Directorate of Social Media
The draft bill also reportedly proposes creation of a regulatory body, a Directorate of Social Media, to “inspect those who produce and spread fake news,” according to Türkiye. This body might be affiliated with the Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK) or the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK). Given that the BTK already has a Department of Internet, a social media department might be established within this department.
Fines for not revealing anonymous account info
According to another news report published again in Türkiye, the proposed legislation also requires social media companies to provide information on anonymous accounts when requested by authorities in the course of criminal investigations. Social media companies that refuse to provide such information on anonymous account users who are accused of insult or fake news will face fines.
Social media companies will also be required to remove “fake images.” Non-compliance will again be punishable by fines. The proposed Directorate of Social Media is expected to be responsible for requesting social media companies to provide anonymous account information or delete “fake images.”
The report also says that AKP has been examining laws that are in place in the United States, Germany, Austria, the UK and France. Of particular interest is Germany’s disinformation law, which requires social media platforms to remove “illegal content” within 24 hours or face fines up to 50 million euros.
“Terrorism of lies”
Erdoğan first announced that the government would introduce legal measures against “terrorism of lies” in July, saying the social media law of the last year, which, among others, made it compulsory for social media companies to appoint legal representatives and keep users data in Turkey, needed to be supported with additional steps.
“There needs to be a further step, especially in regards to the terrorism of lies. This problem is particularly acute for us because the opposition party here has placed this terrorism of lies at the center of its politics,” Erdoğan said back then, apparently referring to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). “Therefore, the situation is far more serious in our context and there is a very grave threat against our democracy. We cannot tolerate it any longer. Because this is also a type of terrorism. Therefore, we need to fight it.”
“New tool for government censorship”
The draft bill has fueled concerns of further censorship in Turkey, where mainstream media is under government control, leading many people to rely on social media for unbiased news and critical opinion.
In a joint statement, 23 international and Turkish non-governmental organizations criticized the proposed legislation.
“In relation to so-called fake news, we are concerned that enacting any kind of legal duty of ‘truth’ will in practice amount to the creation of a new tool for government censorship: empowering public officials to decide what is true and what is not entails accepting that the authorities have a right to silence voices with whom they disagree,” said the statement. “This prospect is especially worrisome in light of Turkey’s poor track record in respecting freedom of speech and legitimate criticism of the authorities.”