Facebook jumps on bandwagon to appoint local representative to Turkey

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Facebook — the most-visited website in Turkey — following in the footsteps of social media giants like popular video-sharing website YouTube, has decided to appoint a local representative to Turkey in compliance with a controversial new law, according to a statement from the company on Monday.

The company said in its statement it had decided to appoint a local representative in line with the new social media law. Facebook said while having made the decision, it wanted to underline the importance of freedom of expression, in an apparent bid to ease concerns about its compliance with the new law, which has raised fears about growing government censorship on social media.

Facebook said its decision will not change its Community Standards, list of official rules that outlines the types of posts that can get a user banned from using Facebook, and its examination of content removal requests made by governments.

Facebook also said there would be no change in the company’s commitment to the freedom of expression of the people living in Turkey and the protection of the other human rights.

Facebook was among a group of giant social media companies including Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Periscope, TikTok, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Dailymotion that have twice been fined by Turkish authorities over the past two months for failing to appoint a local representative to Turkey. Each of these companies was fined TL 10 million ($1.17 million) in November and TL 30 million ($3.8 million) in December.

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.

Facebook’s decision came one day before an advertising ban takes effect on Jan. 19 for the social media companies that have not appointed representatives to Turkey.

According to the website of Statista, a German company specializing in market and consumer data, there were 57.26 million Facebook users in Turkey in December 2020.

YouTube was the first in December to announce its decision to appoint a local representative to Turkey, followed by Chinese-based video-sharing social networking service TikTok earlier this month and the US-based LinkedIn.

Twitter and Pinterest have not yet announced a decision.

Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said social media companies with a daily access rate of over 1 million in Turkey have begun to toe the line since they were slapped with sizable fines for failing to comply with the new social media law.

“Once fines were issued, they [social media giants] began to toe the line. You will pay [fines]. You are going to pay them here [in Turkey], just like you pay them in the West,” Erdoğan said in a speech during a media awards ceremony held in the presidential complex in Ankara.

The requirements of the law are believed to give Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government more leverage against critics since the prosecution of individuals due to their social media messages is an everyday occurrence in Turkey and thousands of people have been tried or have faced legal action on insult charges due to their critical views on social media about Erdoğan and other government officials.

Meanwhile, Turkey had blocked access to 408,494 websites, 130,000 URLs, 10,000 YouTube videos and 6,200 pieces of Facebook content by the end of 2019, according to research carried out by the Freedom of Expression Association’s (İFÖD) EngelliWeb initiative.

According to the regulation, companies that still refuse to observe the law after the imposition of fines may face as much as a 90 percent cut in their Internet bandwidth, and if they comply, the restrictions will be lifted and a quarter of the imposed fine will be collected.

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