By Gokhan Ergocun
ISTANBUL (AA) – With social media companies becoming overwhelmingly powerful, making it easy for them to abuse this power, countries must create their own social media laws, said a digital communications expert.
It is very important to keep citizens’ personal data within their country, and the European Union has also created the General Data Protection Regulation to safeguard personal data, Nabat Garakhanova told Anadolu Agency.
Touching on Turkey's new social media law which went into effect on Oct. 1, she said social media networks have become platforms for bullying, but when they appoint representatives in Turkey, the country is able to reach the representative and resolve potential problems.
Last week, the Turkish Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) fined several foreign social media companies 10 million Turkish lira ($1.19 million) each for not hiring local representatives.
They included Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Periscope and TikTok, which are accessed over 1 million times a day from Turkey, while Russian site VK escaped the fine by appointing a representative.
Garakhanova stressed that Twitter fulfills a very small part of court orders. While Turkey asked Twitter to ban 8,993 accounts, the firm only made 264 accounts and 230 tweets invisible in Turkey.
"If Twitter and other firms have representatives in Turkey, they will have to comply with the court decisions," she added.
Nearly all social media firms are based in the US, and the most-used ones are under the umbrella of Facebook, she noted.
Garakhanova stressed that just as every country has drafted constitutional regulations over the years, similar regulations are needed for social media.
"Social media platforms are resisting for appointing responsible representatives, creating offices or paying taxes all around the world, not just in Turkey," she underlined.
– Other countries
Recently, some countries such as Russia, Germany, France and Australia created regulations for social media platforms, and the UK will make some regulations in the same case, Garakhanova noted.
She said France was the first country in the EU to introduce a digital services tax on digital companies. Tech giants have to pay 3% of their income in the country as tax. As a result, France anticipates €400 million (around $475 million) in annual tax income.
In Germany, technology companies with over two million users must create procedures for reviewing complaints about content and removing illegal content within 24 hours. Otherwise, German authorities can impose fines up to €50 million, she said.
She added that Australia is also preparing a social media law where if firms neglect requests to remove content, the country will sentence managers to up to three years in prison.
Facebook has 85 offices in 35 countries, Twitter has 34 offices in 19 countries, YouTube has eight offices in six countries, Instagram has seven offices in five countries and TikTok has also offices in several countries, she noted.
"In these countries, social media platforms can face fines up to millions of dollars when they act illegally."
– Turkey's regulation
Turkey’s new social media law gives social media companies 30 days to appoint local representatives and failure to do so means a 10 million lira fine.
According to the law, if the companies still have not appointed a representative in the next 30-day period, the country will impose an additional fine of up to 30 million liras (around $3.6 million).
After the 60-day period, if the companies continue to neglect the law, the country will forbid Turkish firms to give advertisements to social media platforms.
Three months after the advertising ban, authorities could reduce the internet bandwidth of these platforms by an initial 50% and then by 90% after a month.
If the social media giants appoint local representatives, 75% of the fine will be waived and the bandwidth reduction will end.
As part of the law, social media firms should answer Turkish requests in the Turkish language. The platforms must answer requests dealing with personal and privacy rights within 48 hours.
The companies must also publish reports on a semi-annual basis showing request statistics on personal and privacy rights.
Social networks that do not remove illegal content within 24 hours despite a court decision will be held responsible.
In addition, social media companies must take the necessary measures to host Turkey-based users' data in Turkey.
– Turkey's digital ad volume reaches $2.3 billion last year
According to balance sheets, the combined revenue of Facebook — owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — totaled $70.69 billion last year globally, of which $69.65 billion came from advertising.
Twitter posted $3.46 billion in revenue last year with $2.99 billion of this amount coming from advertising.
The number of daily active users of Facebook and its subsidiaries and Twitter's daily active users currently total 1.82 billion and 187 million on average.
Turkey has around 54 million active social media users and their average daily time on social media is nearly three hours as of 2020, according to a report by internet research company We Are Social.
The top three most visited websites in Turkey were Google, YouTube and Facebook as of January 2020 while the top popular social media platforms in the country were YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.
The number of people that Facebook can reach with adverts on its website was 37 million in Turkey, while this figure was 38 million on Instagram and 11.8 million on Twitter, the report released.
The top five smartphone applications by active users in Turkey are WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Twitter, the report showed.
Turkey's digital advertising market volume reached $2.28 billion in 2019, with $424 million of this amount in social media ads, according to the report.