As the digital content consumption increase, social networks have an increasing importance in our daily lives. Accordingly, digital media companies have been at the crosshair of regulators around the globe. Catching this legislative trend, the Turkish parliament recently enacted a notable amendment on the rules that govern social networks. The amendments bring new areas of concern for social network providers ("SNP") and over the top ("OTT") service providers. Below, you may find a brief overview of the recent changes.

What happened?

General Assembly of Turkish Parliament approved an amendment on 13 October 2022 ("Amendment"). The Amendment has been promulgated in the Turkish Official Gazette and come into force on 18 October 2022.

A new type of crime: Publicly disseminating misleading information (Turkish Criminal Code Article 217/A)

1245784a.jpg A new crime is defined: Anyone who publicly disseminates untrue information concerning the domestic and external security, public order, and public health of Turkey, with the sole intention of creating anxiety, public disorder, fear, or panic among the public, in a manner likely to disrupt public peace, shall be sentenced to imprisonment from one year to three years.

Changes made in The Law on the Regulation of Broadcasts via Internet and Prevention of Crimes Committed through Such Broadcasts numbered 5651 ("Internet Law")

  • The Access Providers' Association's authority is narrowed: The Association is no longer responsible for block access decisions which are in the scope of Article 8/A in addition to Article 8.

  • Access providers are liable to establish technical mechanism to notify decisions.

  • The Association may notify the decisions to remove the content and/or block access to the electronic mail addresses of the relevant content or hosting provider, which can be identified from their websites.

  • The president ("President") of Information Technologies Authority ("Authority") can now ex officio decide to remove or block the content regarding all crimes laid out in the Article 8 and crimes such as impersonating a National Intelligence Service ("NIS") member and forging a NIS document.

  • There is no longer distinction as to where the content or hosting provider is located (in Turkey or abroad) for the Authority to impose sanctions.

Changes in relation to obligations of SNPs

  • Residency requirement has been introduced on the representatives of foreign-based SNPs with more than one million daily accesses from Turkey: The naturel person representative of the companies must be a resident in Turkey as well as being a Turkish citizen.

  • If the daily access from Turkey to the website is more than ten million, the representative of a foreign-based SNP shall be fully authorized and responsible for technical, administrative, legal, and financial matters, without prejudice to the responsibilities of the SNP. If the representative is a legal entity, it must be organized as a branch to be established by the SNP.

  • SNPs' reports to the Authority shall include specific information regarding their algorithms for title tags, featured or un-featured content, advertising policies and transparency policies. The SNP shall take the necessary measures in cooperation with the Authority for its own system, mechanism, and algorithm regarding the non-publication of content and title tags related to the offenses under this Law and shall include these measures in its reports.

  • The SNP is obliged to include information as to which parameters it uses when providing suggestions to users on its website in a clear, understandable, and easily accessible The SNP shall take the necessary measures to update users' preferences regarding the content it recommends and to offer the option to limit the use of their personal data and shall include those measures in its reports. The SNP shall create an advertisement library containing information such as content, advertiser, advertisement duration, target audience, number of people or groups reached, and publish it on its website and include this in its reports. Those reports should also include relevant data regarding the providers' obligation to neutrality towards its users. The SNP is obliged to provide the Authority with all information and documents necessary for the implementation of the Law upon request.

  • The Authority may request all kinds of explanations from the SNP regarding the SNP's compliance within this Law, including organizational structure, information systems, algorithms, data processing mechanisms and commercial behaviors. The SNP is obliged to provide the information and documents requested within three months at the latest. The Authority may inspect the SNP's compliance with this Law on-site at premises of the SNP.

  • The SNP shall take the necessary measures to provide disaggregated child friendly

  • The SNP must provide the public authorities with information regarding contents subject to following crimes:

    a) Child sexual abuse,
    b) Publicly disseminating misleading information,
    c) Disrupting the unity and territorial integrity of the state,
    d) Offenses against the Constitutional Order,
    e) Offenses against State Secrets and Espionage,
  • The SNP's Turkish representative shall share the relevant information to reach the perpetrators who created or disseminated the internet content to the judicial authorities upon request. Failure to comply with these requests may result in a judicial decision to reduce the internet traffic bandwidth of the SNP by 90%.

  • 1245784b.jpg If the SNP fails to comply with the content removal and/or access blocking decision issued by the President of the Authority, the President may decide to prohibit natural or legal persons resident in Turkey from advertising with the relevant foreign SNP for up to six months, and no new contract may be established, and no money transfer may be made in this context. A judicial decision may also be obtained to reduce the internet traffic bandwidth of the SNP by 50%. Administrative fines may be imposed on real and legal persons resident in Turkey who violate the advertising ban.

  • The SNP is liable to establish a notice and takedown mechanism in cooperation with the Authority to takedown infringing title tags or featured content. The SNP is directly liable for the content which is being provided through title tags or featured content if it has been notified of the unlawful content and has not removed the content within four hours at the latest from the notification of the content.

  • Upon being aware of a content that endangers the safety of life and property and in case of urgency, the SNP shall share this content and information about the creator of the content with the authorized law enforcement units.

  • The social network provider is responsible for creating a crisis plan for emergency situations affecting public safety and public health and notifying the Authority.

  • The President may impose an administrative fine of up to three percent of its global revenue in the previous calendar year on a SNP that fails to fulfil its obligations.

  • If the SNP, which has designated a representative before the promulgation of the Amendment, fails to fulfil its new obligations brought by the Amendment within six months, the reduction of bandwidth and prohibition of advertisement would be imposed without need to apply any provisions regarding notification and administrative fines.

Changes in relation to obligations of OTT service providers

  • With the amendments to the Electronic Communications Law, over the top (şebekeler üstü, "OTT"- internet-based) services are defined as "interpersonal electronic communication services within the scope of audio, written and visual communication provided by means of publicly available software to subscribers and users with internet access independently of the operators or the internet service provided".

  • OTT service providers should carry out their activities within the framework of the authorization to be made by the Authority through their fully authorized representatives in the status of a joint stock company or limited liability company established in Turkey. Authority is authorized to issue necessary regulations regarding these services and to take the relevant measures.

  • Administrative fines ranging from TRY one million to thirty million may be imposed on unauthorized OTT service providers.

What are the key takeaways?

In light of the foregoing, we see that the Amendments bring new rules and responsibilities set forth in various legislations including press, internet and criminal laws. In particular, SNPs are required to comply with an array of new responsibilities and adapt their operational procedures to the Amendments. Accordingly, notice and takedown procedures may need to be reviewed to ensure compliance with the amended Internet Law. Similarly, OTT service providers must comply with new obligations introduced by the Amendment as long as those services are provided publicly.

Based on the current legislative climate, we see that Turkey has a growing interest to closely regulateonline services and content consumption. Accordingly, we expect that public entities and law enforcement agencies will be motivated to uphold the Amendments and closely monitor whether major players are in compliance or not. Hence, it will be beneficial to cross-reference the Amendments with relevant actors' current position and have a deeper understanding on potential risks and liabilities.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.