The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, is deeply concerned over advertising bans announced by the Turkish government this week on social media platforms including Twitter, Periscope and Pinterest. The bans come after the platforms declined to appoint local representatives under Turkey’s new social media law, which was passed last October.

IPI repeated its call on the Turkish government to withdraw the law and rescind the penalties imposed on online platforms in recent months.

In recent years, social media has been a powerful medium for free media and journalists in Turkey to amplify their voices and reach as the most of country’s mainstream media has come under the direct or indirect influenced of the government. Any interference with social media platforms and coercing them to comply with draconian penalties would dramatically expand the scope of the censorship regime exercised by the government.

IPI had repeatedly warned of the social media law’s repercussion on freedom of expression and press freedom in Turkey and urged the authorities to withdraw the regulation.

“Social media platforms are one of the last free spaces for independent journalism and dissident voices in Turkey” IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavas said. “This law and its penalties threaten the removal of critical voices, including journalists who have been driven from mainstream media, from social media via content removal or self-censorship. Turkey must withdraw this law and all penalties on social media companies issued under it. This law represents a serious expansion of digital censorship and threatens a last bastion for journalists and critical public discussion.”

The social media law, which was originally a set of amendments in the existing “Law on the Arrangement of Internet Publication and Combating Crimes Committed Through These Publication”, drafted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), placed new obligations and requirements for social media platforms with more than one million users per day. As per the law, social media platforms are required to appoint local representatives, store user data in Turkey and comply with content removal requests within a limited time frame. Those that fail to comply face hefty fines, advertising bans and gradual bandwidth reductions.

After the law had entered into force, leading global social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok gradually appointed local representatives. After two sets of monetary fines were imposed on it, in November and December, Facebook announced on January 18 that it would also open a local office.

However, Twitter and others have continued to decline to appoint a local representative. In response, on Tuesday January 19, 2021, a decision was published in the Official Gazette on advertising bans imposed by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) on Twitter, Periscope and Pinterest. According to the decision, persons and companies in Turkey cannot post advertisements on these platforms, thereby cutting a source of significant revenue for these platforms. In addition to its impact on freedom of expression and press freedom, the ad ban has also been criticized for blocking the advertising of small businesses operating online that maintain their business via online sales.

Should the platforms still not comply with the requirement to appoint local representatives, they would face serious bandwidth reduction, up to 50 percent in April and up to 90 percent in May.