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Turkey Passes Law Extending Sweeping Powers Over Social Media

A new law in Turkey requires large social media companies like Facebook to open Offices in Turkey and remove content deemed offensive, or risk stiff penalties. 

Turkey Passes a legislation which extends control over platforms like Facebook, Twitter,and YouTube. Critics worry it will be used to stifle dissent and criticism of the government. 

Turkish Lawmakers passed legislation on Wednesday that would give the government sweeping new powers to regulate social media content, raising concerns that one of the few remaining spaces for free public debate in the country could fall under greater government control. 

The bill orders social media platforms with over one million daily users - such as Facebook,Twitter and YouTube - to open offices in Turkey and imposes stiff penalties if the international companies refuse,including slowing the bandwidth of the sites and making them largely inaccessible. 

These offices would be responsible for responding to the demands of the government and individuals to block or remove content hosted on their platforms that is deemed offensive. They would have 48 hours to comply and could be fined more than $700,000 if they fail to respond. 

The new law,which is expected to go into effect October 1, also requires the social media companies to store user data inside Turkey, raising privacy concerns. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his governing A.K.P party, having already taken control over most of the nation's traditional media outlets,were behind the legislation, arguing that it was needed to protect citizen from cybercrime and slander. Critics,however say it is it is parr of a broader effort to control the flow of information in the country and stifle dissent. 

"The new law will enable the government to control social media, to get content removed at will and to arbitrarily target individual users," Tom Porteous,deputy program director at Human Rights Watch,said in a statement released hours before the overnight vote. "Social media is a lifetime for many people who use it to access news,so this law signals a new dark era of online censorship."

The attempts to gain control over social media in Turkey highlight the paradox the platforms present in the digital space. 

They have been used to spread disinformation in Western democracies,including by hostile foreign powers bent on sowing chaos and influencing elections. Effort by social media platforms to police and content ththey host have repeatedly fallen short,and government have yet to devise successful strategies to regulate content without unwittingly infringing on free speech. 

But they have also proven to be an increasingly essential too for debate and dialogue in repressive and autocratic nations, one of the last arenas where opposition figures can connect with the public  and citizens can attempt to hold politicians to account. 

More than 90% of Turkey's conventional media is now controlled by conglomerates close to the government. Hundreds of reporters have been jailed of fled the country out of fear ,and Mr. Erdogan has made himself so omnipotent on TV and Radio that his voice can drown out all others. The internet is now,for many, the last open public forum. 

In passing the bill,supporters acknowledged that it would allow the government to exert more authority in the digital realm. 

"Today,while all the conventional media is acting within a certain discipline and order,we will be regulating social media who is acting entirely on it's own," Cahit Ozkan,deputy head of A.K.P. said on Tuesday in television remarks. 

Mr. Erdogan has made no secrets of his disdain for social media and of his desire to exert control over digital space, much in the same way his government has gained control over traditional media. 

Source : The New York Times 

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