Turkish government increases pressure on social media | Europe | News and events from across the continent | DW


In the nearly 20 years that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in power, he has succeeded in bringing newspapers and television channels largely under the control of his government. In response, opposition politicians, activists and critics have taken to social media to create an alternative media landscape and public space.

Activists use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other similar platforms to draw attention to the issues, opposition politicians use them to mobilize their supporters, and smaller alternative media use them to disseminate their content.

Journalists and activists fear a new wave of detentions

But Erdogan and his government are now tightening their grip on the internet. Although they’ve cracked down on social media heavily in recent years, the next blow will be even harder.

“Fake news, disinformation, provocation”

The government, together with the Turkish presidential communications directorate and media regulator RTÃœK, is planning a social media directorate to tackle “fake news, disinformation, provocation and lynching of justice in social media.” Violations will be punishable by fines and detention. According to government sources, the bill is currently being drafted.

“There have been complaints from all walks of life,” Naci Bostanci, vice chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) group, told DW. “People and institutions are the targets of fake social media accounts and fake identities. Language which disrupts the peace between people and in society is used. […] We want a law that respects democracy, freedom and justice. ”

But the opposition doubts that these proposals aim to promote social harmony. Critics say the government simply wants to expand its influence in the digital world. They fear that the management will lead to a new wave of detentions and that censorship will spread.

The government denies it: “Undermining freedom of communication has never been on our agenda,” Bostanci told DW. “We want to work with all parties involved, come up with a settlement and prevent misinformation.”

“Beginning of a witch hunt”

Communication expert Mustafa Adigüzel of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is skeptical. “They keep saying, ‘Your child or your spouse could become a victim of fake news,'” he said, while stressing that it was problematic that it was the government parties who would decide what was supposedly wrong or not.

“This is the start of an Internet witch hunt. At the same time, the presidential palace will use social networks to disseminate its information and opinions,” he predicted. “The words of President Erdogan are often the purest disinformation. Will they also prevent such statements?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers statement at press conference

During his tenure Erdogan took control of most mainstream media

Last October, the Turkish government had already massively tightened its control over internet content by amending Law No. 5651 on the media and by forcing platforms with more than one million users to open premises in Turkey. If Twitter or other social media providers refuse to do so, Turkish courts can decide to reduce their bandwidth by up to 95%.

Similarities with China, Russia and India

The new proposals will allow fines of 1 to 10 million Turkish liras to be imposed on content considered by the government to be questionable. Critics say this is another attack on free speech.

But government officials argue that similar laws already exist in democratic countries like Germany, and Erdogan even referred to the “German model”. This is an allusion to the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) ​​of 2017 which aims to combat hate speech online and allows for the removal of publications promoting hate crimes.

But critics of the Turkish government say its policies regarding online media are more similar to those of autocratic countries like China, Russia and India.

This article was translated from German.


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