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Turkey arrested 14 TikTok users over explicit livestreams, child abuse content: minister

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Turkish authorities have arrested 14 TikTok users for making sexually explicit livestreams in exchange for money and abusing minors over the past six months, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced on Tuesday, Deutsche Welle’s Turkish edition (DW Türkçe) reported.

“We are taking action against those who create explicit content, earn money through live broadcasts of such content and produce and share child abuse content on this platform,” Yerlikaya said at a press conference in Ankara.

He explained that 1,332 TikTok users have been investigated for such content. In addition, 48 people were released under judicial supervision after being detained by law enforcement, and deportation proceedings have been initiated against 14 foreign nationals.

“The necessary procedures are underway for the 612 accounts that have been identified and reported to the relevant authorities,” said Yerlikaya.

TikTok, a popular video-sharing platform, has been criticized in various countries for inappropriate content and potential harm to children.

In Turkey, the issue came to the fore after a 35-year-old TikTok user named G.D. was arrested for streaming explicit content on TikTok in exchange for money. According to Turkish media reports, she is said to have managed to collect TL 100,000 within an hour through her live broadcasts.

The investigation into G.D. was launched after her explicit live broadcasts on TikTok went viral on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Law enforcement authorities took action and raided her apartment in the Kartal district of İstanbul.

After appearing in court, the 35-year-old woman was released under judicial supervision and subject to a travel ban.

Turks have an ambivalent relationship with social media.

On the one hand, the government’s almost absolute control over traditional media and the fact that social networks and internet-based media have remained largely free of oversight has meant that critical voices have found a space on social media platforms where they can access information that does not toe the official line.

On the other hand, the cost of living crisis affecting most Turks, as well as the younger generation’s growing disillusionment with conservative and traditional values, has led to more and more explicit content being posted on social media, often in exchange for money.

In response to the increase in such content, the government now focuses on possible measures regulating social media to preserve Turkish “family and moral values.”

Critics argue that existing laws already cover offenses such as obscenity and racism and that creating separate regulations for social media could lead to a new “disinformation law” that potentially impinges on freedom of expression.

The controversial “disinformation law” criminalizes the dissemination of “false or misleading information” and stipulates prison sentences of between one and three years.

The law, which was passed in October 2022 and signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has drawn widespread criticism from rights groups and the opposition for further restricting freedom of expression in Turkey.

Tax evasion and money laundering

Psychologists who spoke to Turkish media about the hazards of social media believe that the exaggerated portrayal of lavish lifestyles on these platforms, which further flaunts wealth, can tempt people to engage in illegal activities for financial gain. The visibility and fame gained through social media platforms can become a form of capital that drives influencers to maintain and enhance their public image, sometimes through illicit means.

Turkish authorities have recently started cracking down on some social media influencers and have arrested a number of them, while others are under investigation.

Influencers under scrutiny are suspected of creating fake invoices for nonexistent products or services, faking high sales or transactions to justify large sums of money in their accounts. They face charges of money laundering, tax evasion and illegal betting.

This drew the attention of the Turkish Ministry of Finance to the income generated by these individuals via social media platforms.

The Turkish government is now preparing a comprehensive legislative package to improve the taxation of income generated through social media.

In 2021 the government passed a law to tax income from social media. At the beginning of 2022, the Ministry of Finance amended the regulations and circulars to implement this law.

According to the regulation in the Income Tax Law, from 2022 those who generate income through social media in Turkey must open a special account with a bank located in Turkey, which will retain 15 percent of the payments made to this account. In this context, TL 880,000 of the income earned in 2022 was exempted from income tax. This amount was increased to TL 1.9 million in 2023.

These audits can be done by taxing and auditing the money that companies such as YouTube and TikTok pay into the accounts of influencers. The companies report these payments to social media users to the relevant institutions, whereupon the tax teams can follow up.

However, experts point to the growing concern that direct payments from companies to social media influencers, which include both “individual donations” and covert advertising, have increased sharply in recent times, posing challenges in terms of control and taxation.

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