Turkish businesses concerned about looming advertising ban under social media law

Turkish companies, including those with foreign partners, could be barred from doing business with the largest five social media platforms active in the country should the platforms not comply with new social media laws by January, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

A regulation passed by the Turkish parliament in July requires any online platform with more than one million daily users to appoint a representative in Turkey who would be responsible for compliance with official requests for content removal.

Most major platforms have so far refused or neglected to make such appointments. In November, Turkey fined Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, YouTube and TikTok 10 million liras ($1.25 million) each for non-compliance. In the first week of December, the same companies were issued a second round of fines, this time amounting to 30 million liras each.

The new law stipulates that a ban on advertising on the platforms will be the next step. If platforms still do not comply, their bandwidth will be throttled by up to 90 percent, which could restrict speeds so severely that services focused on photo and video content may become inaccessible or very time-consuming to download.

Turkish companies spent some 3.5 billion liras ($450 million) on online advertising in the first half of 2020, with 22.5 percent of advertisement spending collected by the government as tax, Bloomberg reported, citing Advertisers Association figures.

Members of the Electronic Commerce Operators Association (ETID) have appealed to the government to come up with a solution. They have requested exemptions to allow companies to place online advertisements outside Turkey “because that’s critical for our exports,” ETID Vice Chairman Hakan Çevikoğlu told Bloomberg.

Tighter Turkish control of online content provision is reflected in wider data on freedom of expression, both on the internet and offline.

Turkey is rated Not Free in Freedom House’s global internet freedom study. According to a report by opposition newspaper BirGün, 2019 saw more than 36,000 people investigated for insulting the president, with 12,298 of them (including 318 minors) facing trial. More than 3,800 people were convicted of the offence.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the summer of 2020 saw at least 347 articles censored in Turkey upon requests from the Turkish authorities, companies and individuals close to the government.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he hoped the companies would voluntarily comply with the government’s requests, without forcing Ankara into "protecting the rights’’ of Turkey’s citizens