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Erdoğan says social media has become a threat to national security

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said social media platforms over which there is no supervision have become a threat to countries’ democracy and national security at a time of increased media censorship in Turkey.

Erdoğan’s remarks were made in a video message sent to a media forum organized by the Communications Directorate of his presidency at an İstanbul hotel on Oct. 21-22.

“Social media platforms where there is no supervision have become a threat to countries’ democracy, social peace and national security,” Erdoğan said, adding that his government is subject to frequent disinformation campaigns on social media.

Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been relentless in its crackdown on critical media outlets, particularly after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

As an overwhelming majority of the country’s mainstream media has come under government control over the last decade, Turks have taken to social media and smaller online news outlets for critical voices and independent news.

Turks are already heavily policed on social media, and many have been charged with insulting Erdoğan or his ministers, or criticism related to foreign military incursions and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In July 2020 parliament passed legislation at Erdoğan’s request imposing far-reaching restrictions on social media platforms with over 1 million daily visitors in Turkey.

The law, which concerns YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, went into effect in October 2020 and set forth progressive sanctions forcing social media platforms with more than 1 million connections a day to appoint a representative in Turkey with whom the Turkish authorities can resolve problems arising from cases of insult, intimidation and violation of privacy. After initially refusing to comply with the law, giant social media platforms, which were subjected to large fines by Turkish courts, had to announce that they would appoint local representatives to Turkey.

The law was criticized by human rights defenders and critics including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the UN, who expressed concern over the government’s move.

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