Twitter is once again trying to walk a fine line in Turkey. The Verge reports that Twitter has established a legal entity in Turkey to comply with the country’s hotly debated Internet Law 5651, which requires that larger social networks (over 1 million users) must store residents’ data inside the country. The company was aware of the controversies of honoring the law, but justified the decision as a reflection of its goal to defend “open, public conversation” and make the service available wherever possible.
Facebook, TikTok and YouTube have already set up entities in the country. They and Twitter have faced fines of 40 million lira each (roughly $5.1 million) when they didn’t establish local representatives.
The law is ostensibly meant to tackle internet crime and protect users’ rights, and requires that companies like Twitter have a representative that responds to requests to take down privacy-violating material within 48 hours. Companies that refuse to honor the law won’t necessarily face an outright ban, but they risk ad bans, fines and traffic throttling that could make business in Turkey unviable.
However, critics argue that 5651 is really just a pretext for limiting free speech and privacy in the country. The Turkish government is known to use social media bans to control the flow of information that might challenge political leaders. And, as in Russia, storing users’ data could make it easier to spy on and arrest dissidents.
The concession reflects the difficult choices Twitter faces in countries like Turkey. It may not want to expose users to to potential government abuses of power, but the company could effectively be forced out of the country if it doesn’t obey the law, silencing even more speech. In that light, the new entity is a compromise meant to preserve the most amount of online discussion — and, of course, more of Twitter’s business.