(CNN)Turkey's parliament passed a bill on Wednesday that regulates social media content in what is being criticized by rights groups as "damaging" to freedom of expression. Here's what it all means.
Critics fear Turkey's new social media law could hurt freedom of expression. Here's how
The bill imposes comprehensive regulations on social media, requiring foreign social media companies with over 1 million users -- such as Twitter and Facebook -- to have a representative in the country. Under the new law, social media providers will be required to store domestic user data in Turkey, imposing fines of up to $1.5 million, as well as bandwidth restrictions and advertising bans, for failure to comply.
The government defends the bill as an effort to protect approximately 55 million users in Turkey from disinformation. "The bill was prepared with an innovative approach to protect users as opposed to curtailing them," Ismail Cesur, a presidential adviser said in a tweet.
"The bill aims to protect the basic rights and freedoms of citizens and to get ahead of the disinformation," ruling Justice and Development Party deputy chairman Mahir Unal said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT.
Critics fear the new law will weaponize social media companies against voices critical of the government.
Turkey's record on freedom of speech and expression has already been on the decline. More than 408,000 websites were blocked by the end of 2019 in Turkey, according to a report from Turkish internet freedom watchdog Ifade Ozgurlugu Platformu.
In the same period, 7,000 Twitter accounts, 40,000 tweets, 10,000 Youtube videos and 6,200 Facebook content was blocked. While some companies have complied with take down orders from Turkish courts for some content, other requests have been ignored.
The new law forces companies to comply with take-down orders. "The aim is to silence criticism," said Yaman Akdeniz, a cyber rights expert and law professor at Istanbul's Bilgi University.
The law still needs to be approved by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but at this point that is just a formality. He has come out in favor of more regulations on social media platforms already. The bill that passed in parliament gives the tech companies until October to comply with the new law.
Social media companies have not reacted to the bill yet but cyber rights experts say platforms should leave the Turkish market instead of complying with the new law. "I tell