his article discusses the amendments and changes made to Law No. 5651 on the Regulation of Publications on the Internet and the Fight Against Crimes Committed Through These Publications, which came into effect in 2007. These amendments were introduced by Law No. 7253, published in the Official Gazette of Turkey on July 31, 2020, and are commonly referred to as the social media Law. Here, we provide an assessment of the changes made to Law No. 5651, known as the social media Law.
A New Definition: Social Network Provider
An amendment to Article 2 of Law No. 5651 introduced the definition of a social network provider. According to this definition, a social network provider is defined as individuals or legal entities that enable users to create, view, or share content such as text, images, audio, and location data for social interaction purposes in the online environment.
Understanding this definition accurately is crucial for determining which social media platforms are covered by the obligations introduced by the social media law. The key term here is “social interaction purpose.” Interaction is defined as the action of influencing each other reciprocally, and social interaction is defined as two or more individuals communicating with each other.
Based on these definitions, we can consider social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, which undeniably serve a social interaction purpose, as social network providers. However, applications like WhatsApp, Telegram, and FaceTime, whose primary purpose is to facilitate communication between two individuals rather than social interaction, should not be classified as social network providers. For instance, WhatsApp requires users to register with a phone number, which supports the argument that it does not primarily serve social interaction. On the other hand, if we were to interpret the definition more broadly, email applications that allow the sending of text, images, audio, and location data would also be classified as social network providers, which seems impractical.
Obligations Imposed on Social Network Providers
Here are some of the obligations imposed on social network providers by Law No. 5651, known as the social media Law:
Obligation to Have a Representative:
Social network providers with daily access from Turkey exceeding one million users, regardless of their origin, must appoint at least one representative in Turkey and publish their contact information on their websites. The law does not specify whether the representative can be an individual or a legal entity, but if the representative is an individual, they must be a Turkish citizen. Failure to comply with this obligation results in administrative fines imposed by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK).
Obligation to Respond:
Individuals and organizations who claim that their personal rights have been violated due to content published on the internet can request the removal or blocking of such content from content providers or, if unavailable, from hosting providers. This request can also be made directly to a criminal judge. Furthermore, social network providers with daily access from Turkey exceeding one million users are obliged to respond to users’ requests regarding content removal or blocking within 48 hours. Refusals must be justified.
Obligation to Keep Data in Turkey:
Social network providers with daily access from Turkey exceeding one million users, regardless of their origin, must take necessary measures to store the data of Turkish users in Turkey. The law does not specify the exact measures to be taken, but it aims to ensure data security and compliance with Turkish legal regulations regarding data transfer abroad.
Social network providers with daily access from Turkey exceeding one million users are required to submit reports to the BTK every six months. These reports must contain statistical and categorical information related to the removal of content and user requests. Additionally, the social network providers must publish reports on their own websites, with personal data removed.
Why Were These Regulations Needed?
Firstly, the difficulty in holding foreign-based social network providers accountable in Turkey was a significant issue. In cases of harm caused by internet publications, the inability to identify perpetrators was a major problem. Disputes arising on social media platforms are not limited to criminal matters; they also extend to e-commerce and consumer rights. In these cases, the inability to locate a responsible party has prompted various countries to introduce regulations targeting social media companies.
The requirement to store personal data in Turkey also aligns with global trends in data protection and privacy. Ensuring data protection and adherence to local legal regulations concerning data transfer abroad are legitimate expectations.
In summary, the digital age has brought about a new era of global communication and challenges in addressing legal disputes and protecting rights. While governments have legitimate demands regarding social media regulations, it is essential to approach this issue with a balanced perspective to protect both individual freedoms and societal interests. The perception of a threat to freedom of thought and expression, as felt by society, must be addressed through fair and unbiased implementation. Furthermore, the decisions to remove content or block access should be made with great care, taking into account the principles of democracy and the rule of law.