(Istanbul, 09 January, 2021) TikTok’s decision to comply with Turkey’s new repressive laws on social media seriously threatens free speech on its platform and enables the Turkish government to expand its censorship regime, ARTICLE 19 and İFÖD (İfade Özgürlüğü Derneği based in Turkey) said today. The decision, announced today, follows a similar decision by YouTube in December, in spite of calls by civil society not to appoint a local representative.
TikTok’s announcement of the decision came with a commitment to maintain free expression on its platform. However, the climate for freedom of expression in Turkey is marked by government censorship and imprisonment of dissenting voices. The amendment to the Internet Law affecting social media companies is part of efforts to expand further government censorship to online speech, and will inevitably result in a major reduction in online freedoms for Turkish people. IFÖD’s research revealed that over 450,000 websites, 140,000 URL addresses, 42,000 tweets and 11,000 YouTube videos are already blocked from Turkey as of October 2020. With a local office, social media companies will be subject to even more content removal requests.
ARTICLE 19’s Head of Europe and Central Asia Sarah Clarke, said:
“TikTok may claim it will maintain users’ ability to freely express themselves on its platform in Turkey, but the reality is that this new law makes that impossible. The Turkish government already issues more takedown requests to social media platforms than almost any other country, and under the new law this is likely not only to increase, but social media companies who comply with the law will face far greater pressure to allow these requests.”
“People in Turkey have the right to be able to exercise their rights to free expression online and to freely access social media. By appointing a local representative, companies like TikTok seriously risk becoming implicated in rights violations. Until Turkey reforms its law in line with human rights standards, companies who comply with the new law are at risk of their platforms becoming a tool of repression against Turkish people.”
İFÖD’s co-founder, Yaman Akdeniz, said:
“TikTok is completely misguided about the situation in Turkey and its compliance with the Turkish law will have serious repercussions for freedom of expression in Turkey. In the absence of due process and an independent judiciary, TikTok and other social media platform providers with a local presence will be complicit in rights violations in Turkey.”
The changes to Turkey’s Internet Law in July oblige companies to appoint a local representative or face the threat of advertising bans and subsequently bandwidth reduction of a company’s platforms, potentially leaving them unusable. However, the appointment of a representative in adherence to the law brings with it the obligation to comply with unjustified and politically motivated take-down and content removal requests by the Turkish authorities.
ARTICLE 19, together with Human Rights Watch and İFÖD, have previously condemned a similar decision by YouTube, and continue to urge the repeal of the law by the Turkish government.