Erdogan to pass new legislation to control social networks in Turkey

His daughter, who is also the wife of the finance minister, was insulted on Twitter after the birth of her fourth child
A Turkish woman looks at her smartphone next to a banner by Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, March 21, 2014

AFP/OZAN KOSE  -   A Turkish woman looks at her smartphone next to a banner by Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, March 21, 2014

"Do you understand now why we are against social networking platforms like Youtube, Twitter and Netflix? These platforms don't suit this nation. We want to shut them down, control them, and we will bring a bill to Parliament as soon as possible". With these words spoken to members of his party, Justice and Development (AKP), Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has openly expressed his desire to introduce new regulations to "govern" social networks and prevent the proliferation of "immoral acts", which have been committed due to the lack of regulatory laws on the internet and the lax performance of social companies in the country. "We experienced similar attacks in the past. The lack of monitoring on these platforms has a role in the increase of this type of immoral behavior," the president stressed.

The president made the statement after learning that his family had been insulted on Twitter. In particular, offensive messages were posted against his daughter and wife of Finance Minister Esra Albayrak after the couple's fourth child was born on Twitter. Turkish police said that 11 of the 19 users who posted the comments, in which they questioned the paternity of the newborn, had already been arrested, according to Reuters. 

Another "setback" the president has suffered on social networks recently was that a video conference in which he participated with a group of students last week received more than 300,000 "dislikes" ("I don't like it") on Youtube. Erdogan also criticized Twitter last month after the platform decided to close more than 7,000 fake accounts that had been created to increase support for the AKP.

"We are determined to do whatever is necessary, and we will implement access bans and legal and fiscal sanctions once the regulation is completed," Erdogan said, referring to his idea of forcing social networking companies to "appoint representatives in Turkey to respond to legal requests", which, until now, had been "ignored". This would in practice mean that companies could be held accountable in Turkish courts, according to AFP.

However, according to the agency, Fahrettin Altun, Turkey's communications director and one of the president's top personal advisors, has said that Erdogan's comments have been interpreted "out of context" and that all they have asked is that the companies "open offices" in the Eurasian nation.

El presidente turco, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prometió reforzar el control sobre las redes sociales
REUTERS/DADO RUVIC - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to strengthen control over social networks

Immediately after the president uttered these words, the label or hashag "#SosyalMedyamaDOKUNMA" (#Don'tMessWithMySocialNetworks) went viral on Twitter, condemning the president's new gesture against freedom of expression, which has been significantly curtailed in recent times, especially in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt.

The message has also been criticized by the political opposition. A deputy from the Republican People's Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, has directly attacked Erdogan: "Instead of acting in anger and taking measures that will turn the country into China, North Korea or Russia, ethical measures should be introduced with the participation of all parties," he said. 

"Critics fear that the measure is intended to further limit the ability of the Turkish people to access independent media in an environment dominated by pro-government media," AFP reported.

Freedom of expression in Turkey has been particularly damaged by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. "The Turkish president seems to be using COVID-19 as a pretext to get rid of the few critical media that remain in his country. Opposition politicians and journalists fear a new wave of censorship," warned the German daily Deutsche Welle in May. In particular, press freedom suffered a further setback a week ago when it became known that journalists arrested for reporting on the death of two alleged Turkish intelligence agents operating in Libya could face up to 19 years in prison for allegedly "revealing state secrets". Since 2016, Amnesty International has documented the closure of at least 180 media outlets and the loss of employment of at least 2,500 media professionals. In April alone, 18 news websites and dozens of independent articles published on the internet were blocked.

It should be mentioned at this point that the country's lawyers are also demonstrating to protect the independence of the judiciary in the face of the latest measures promoted by the Presidency.