Vague plans for social media law create confusion

(ILLUSTRATION: KADİR ÖZMEN)

June 20, 2013, Thursday/ 16:31:00

Government officials are talking about new regulations on the use of social media in Turkey after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and members of his administration expressed their irritation with Twitter, but the exact nature of the potential regulations remains a source of confusion.

Erdoğan called Twitter a major scourge after returning from a tour of North Africa two weeks ago and accused the social media platform of fomenting recent riots, which he also blamed on “market speculators.”

Unrest and protests sparked by a plan to redevelop an İstanbul park have rocked cities across Turkey for almost three weeks, although the situation seems to have calmed.

On June 11, AK Party Deputy Chairman Ali Şahin also slammed the micro-blogging site, saying: “A false tweet is more dangerous than a bomb. Social media regulation is a must.” Minister of EU Affairs Egemen Bağış has complained of “information pollution” on Twitter during Gezi events.

But AK Party officials have said the new legislation will not come in the form of a ban. In an effort to ease widespread anxiety, AK Party Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik said, “We won't follow a path that goes against the civilized world, but legislation on social media is needed just as with print media.” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bazdağ on Friday also made a statement, assuring that “a ban is completely out of question.” He said: “It will only be about reviewing any inadequacies there might be in crimes and punishments in this sphere,” he said.

He did not elaborate, however, leaving observers, experts and politicians to wonder what kind of new regulations were necessary in a country that already has laws on cybercrime and communications in place. Earlier negative remarks by government officials are stoking fears that a ban, or something like it, is in store.

Transportation and Communications Minister Binali Yıldırım has denied that a ban was in the works, saying in a statement on Thursday that his ministry was working on a “Cyber Security Strategy and Action Plan” that will solely deal with cyber attacks like those staged by the hacker group RedHack on government websites during Gezi protests.

Yıldırım made his remarks to the press after the second annual meeting of the Cyber Security Council -- founded last year -- on Thursday, where the body decided to establish two teams to fight cyberattacks on government websites.

Activists have cause to be concerned. Dozens were detained over tweets after the first 10 days of the Gezi demonstrations. On Thursday, Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Aylin Nazlıaka submitted a parliamentary inquiry demanding a response from Erdoğan on what she called the “witch hunt” against Gezi tweeters. She also said that Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, who she claims is extremely hostile to users who respond to his tweets, has revealed personal information about Twitter users, which the deputy called unethical. Nazlıaka demanded why no action was being taken against Gökçek while tweets about Gezi Park were under investigation.

Experts and analysts, meanwhile, are coming out against new restrictions on social media.

Sociologist Erol Demir from Ankara University said the future of social media was brighter than ever, adding that users are no longer satisfied with traditional media. Social media, he continued, promised larger audiences for those with something to say. Though visual content on social media -- often used as evidence confirming a written statement -- should be monitored for accuracy to prevent disinformation from spreading, he said, it's a fact that people of today's society interact through social media.

The dean of International Antalya University's law school, Savaş Bozbel, said legal restrictions or bans would only encourage people to up their use of social media, adding that Turkey's current Criminal Code (TCK) was adequate to punish crimes like defamation or libel committed via social media.

Ümit Öncel, a webrazzi.com contributor, said on the website that if people believe everything they see on social media, legal measures would not be nearly as effective as educating users on how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

He went on to say that recent events have made people more careful about crossposting others' messages, with many actively working to stop the spread of false information.

Several websites, including sondakika.com, quoted Secretary General of the International Social Media Association Salih Çaktı as saying: “The best measure to take regarding social media is to educate users on social media literacy. Social media users with awareness can detect whether a circulating story is true by researching its source.”

Secretary General of the Media Association Deniz Ergürel expressed a similar view and warned against going overboard with legal restrictions. “Turkey has a serious problem of road accidents. There are many fatal accidents but we don't shut down the roads because of this.”

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