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YouTube to appoint local representative to Turkey in compliance with controversial law

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In an apparent surrender to the Turkish government, which requires giant social media companies to appoint local representatives to Turkey, the popular video sharing website YouTube has announced that it will appoint a local representative to Turkey, according to a statement on its official blog.

The company said in its statement on Wednesday that while YouTube is maintaining its commitment to transparency, freedom of expression and access to information, it also complies with the laws and regulations in the countries where it operates.

“YouTube will set up a legal entity in Turkey to serve as a local representative, providing a local point of contact for the government. This step toward compliance will not change how YouTube reviews content removal requests, nor will it change how YouTube handles or holds user data. … We remain committed to our Turkish users, creators and business partners, and will continue to preserve the platform’s vibrance and openness,” YouTube said in a bid to ease users’ concerns about efforts at censorship by the Turkish government.

YouTube said it has been able to find a way forward and will start the process of appointing a local representative legal entity in compliance with the law, “without compromising our values.”

YouTube, the second most visited website in Turkey after Facebook, has become the first among a group of giant social media companies that have twice been fined byTurkish authorities over the past two months for failing to appoint a local representative to Turkey.

The social media law, which went into effect on Oct. 1, is feared to be used to silence dissent in Turkey, where there are widespread concerns about freedom of expression, as the law requires social media companies to respond within 48 hours to requests to remove content, a broad power that allows authorities to block access to anything they might consider illegal.

In November and early December, Turkey imposed fines on social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for failing to comply with the new law. Each company was fined TL 10 million ($1.17 million) in November and TL 30 million ($3.8 million) in December.

Social media companies Instagram, Periscope, TikTok, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Dailymotion were also levied identical fines. All have a daily access rate of more than 1 million in Turkey.

If the social media companies continue to refuse to appoint local representatives to Turkey, private businesses and individuals will be prohibited in January from giving ads to these companies.

In addition, the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (BTK) will be able to go to court and demand a reduction of 50 percent of the social media companies’ Internet bandwidth, rendering the platforms too slow to use.

If the companies refuse to comply with the requirements of the law for another three months after the enforcement of the advertising ban, they may face as much as a 90 percent cut in their Internet bandwidth.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its opposition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party, pressed for the new law, arguing that it would end the insult and harassment of individuals through the use of social media.

The new law also requires the companies to store data from users on local servers.

Those measures are feared to give the government more leverage against critics in a country that already monitors social media closely and has previously blocked access to websites, including Twitter.

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