Turkish leader calls out ‘main threat to democracy’

Social media has become “one of the main sources of threat to today’s democracy,” Turkish President Erdogan has declared, adding the platforms make it difficult to “protect” the “vulnerable” without imposing undue censorship.

While social media networks were initially marketed as “a symbol of freedom,” they have become a menace to democratic society, Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in a video message to a communications conference on Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

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“We try to protect our people, especially the vulnerable sections of our society, against lies and disinformation without violating our citizens’ right to receive accurate and impartial information,” Erdogan continued. Since last year, social media companies that have over 1 million users are required to store data and maintain a legal representative in Turkey. The order convinced Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to set up satellite offices there.

Turkey is considering a law that would outlaw spreading “false information” online, a notoriously difficult-to-define term for both social media platforms and their billions of users. All three of the major platforms have tightened the reins of censorship significantly since the beginning of the Covid-19 epidemic only to further declare ideas off-limits in the run-up to the US 2020 presidential election.

If that law passes, it would create a social media regulator position capable of officially deeming posts misinformation on behalf of the government. Those posting the newly-offensive content could face up to five years in prison.

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Turkey’s media climate has been criticized for the heavy-handed role played by the government, and the self-appointed guardians of press freedom, such as Freedom House, have criticized Erdogan’s government for removing content critical of the government and “prosecuting” people who post “undesirable” commentary on social media. For example, the infamously-biased ‘free encyclopedia’ Wikipedia was blocked in Turkey for three years, supposedly due to the English version’s claim (in an article on “state-sponsored terrorism”) that Turkey was such a state sponsor. The ban was repealed last year after the Constitutional Court of Turkey found it violated human rights.

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