Turkey’s renewed crackdown on fake news to focus on concerted efforts

The Turkish government is seeking to introduce prison sentences for spreading what it calls ‘false information’ over social media. The new legislation will focus on ‘concerted efforts’ rather than individuals, BBC Türkçe reported on Wednesday.

The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) focus is on punishing the spread of ‘false information’, if it comes in an “organised” form “issued for a specific purpose”, the BBC said.

“What we are really fighting against is not individual posts. False information also spreads through them, but what we focus on is organised and conscious disinformation,” it cited unnamed AKP officials as saying.

The draft is expected to come to parliament in October.

Lying on social media will carry a prison sentence of one to five years, and citizens may serve three months to two years for insulting others online, according to Türkiye newspaper. The minimum sentence for insulting public officials, including politicians, would be one year.

The draft also includes a new monitoring mechanism for social media content, in the form of one Social Media Directorate to operate under the media watchdog RTÜK and the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK), the newspaper said.

The main concern over the proposal “relates to the use of vague terms and criteria, as well as the risk of abuse by state authorities”, according to International Press Institute (IPI) Turkey Program Coordinator Renan Akyavaş, who told news website Bianet last week that such legislation could be used to stifle dissent. Akyavaş said the proposal’s goal appeared to be to increase online censorship.

“It is essential that Turkish authorities publish the full draft of this bill in advance and discuss the planned regulations with civil society groups and independent media representatives to ensure that any legislation meets international standards and does not interfere with the fundamental rights of press freedom and freedom of expression,” Akyavaş said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called for tighter control of social media, saying it was being used by Turkey’s enemies and their local collaborators to attack the country and its government. AKP officials believe the government’s actions remain in line with European norms to police social media, in the face of heavy criticism from the European Union.

In July last year, Turkish parliament approved sweeping changes to social media regulations, introducing fines, restricted bandwidth and possible bans for social media firms who break the law and giving the government sweeping new powers to regulate content.

Turkey was ranked “not free” by Freedom House in its Freedom in the World 2021 index. The organisation said the government continued to expand its attempts to control online sources of news and information. Turkey’s score of 35 out of 100 on social media freedom was lower than that of Rwanda, Belarus and Azerbaijan.

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