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Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, others fined $1.2M each after failing to appoint Turkey representative

Social media networks, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, Youtube and TikTok, have been handed a TL 10 million ($1.18 million) fine each for failing to appoint a representative to Turkey as required by the new law, a senior Turkish official announced Wednesday.

Transport and Infrastructure Deputy Minister Ömer Fatih Sayan made the announcement after the platforms failed to name a local representative by the Nov. 2 deadline.

The companies were notified of the five stages of penalties for social network providers who fail to appoint a representative in Turkey under the amendment of the law, which took effect on Oct. 1, Sayan said on Twitter.

The companies were given time to complete the deficiencies, the deputy minister said.

Accordingly, in case they fail to meet the obligations within 30 days of the notification of the first fine, the firms will be fined another TL 30 million.

In case they again do not comply, Turkish firms will be banned from advertising with them.

If they fail to fulfill the obligations within three months after the advertising ban, the companies will have their internet bandwidth slashed by 50%.

“The internet traffic bandwidth of social network providers, which insist not to comply with the obligation, will be reduced by 90%,” Sayan said, making them practically too slow to use.

Digital rights expert Yaman Akdeniz said any bandwidth reduction would start in April and reach 90% by May, making the platforms effectively inaccessible.

Akdeniz tweeted on Tuesday that only the private Russian social media firm VK had appointed a Turkish representative by the deadline.

“The social network providers that agree to meet their obligations and agree to open a representative office in Turkey will be charged a quarter of the administrative fines, the advertising ban will be lifted, and the interference with internet traffic bandwidth will also be terminated,” the deputy minister noted.

New regulation bill

Parliament ratified the social media regulation bill initially back in July, compelling platforms to comply with conditions or face fines and bandwidth reduction.

“I have full belief that social network providers will make representative notifications to our country in the course of the legal process,” Sayan said.

“Our goal is not to be in a dispute with these providers that serve billions of people on Earth,” Sayan stressed, adding that the country’s goal was to have a similar practice like in other countries where rules are followed and citizens’ demands are valued.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have said the new regulations aim to protect citizens’ personal data and obliges social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to have representatives in the country for removing unlawful content and to block access to harmful content.

The government also says the legislation was needed to combat cybercrime and protect users.

The bill sets a formal definition of social media providers and aims to designate a responsible representative for investigations and legal proceedings relating to offenses on platforms.

It defines real or legal entities that allow users to create, monitor or share online content such as text, visual content, voice recordings and locations for social interaction as social network providers.

Foreign-based social network providers that have more than 1 million daily visitors in Turkey will assign at least one representative in the country. That person’s contact information will be included on the website in a way that is obvious and easy to access.

The representative has to be a Turkish citizen if they are not a legal entity.

The representative will be tasked with responding to individual requests to take down content violating privacy and personal rights within 48 hours or to provide grounds for rejection. The company will be held liable for damages if the content is not removed or blocked within 24 hours.

The new legislation also requires social media providers to store user data in Turkey.

Turkish leaders have long pushed for reforms and recently pressed the issue after a series of insults directed at mostly women in politics, including the family members of politicians, were posted online.

Turkey struggles to fight fake news and defamation campaigns on social media, and the bill aims to prevent users from engaging in such activities.

Similar models used in Germany and France were taken into consideration as a reference while drafting the law.

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