The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is bringing a new law that will regulate social media to the parliament on July 16. This is not the government’s first attempt to put online platforms under its authority, and common wisdom teaches us that it may not be the last.

Regulating social media has been on the agenda of the AKP for some time, but it was laid aside a few times due to public and political pushback.

This time, however, the path to regulation has been paved carefully. This time, the perspective about the supposed need for more oversight and control has been shifted in order for at least a part of the opposition universe to be brought on board. 

In a heavily publicized incident on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, a user was harassing Başak Demirtaş, the wife of jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş. In a supposed show of non-discrimination concerning aggression in online communication, the state authorities stepped in, and the perpetrator was detained.

Soon after this incident, President Erdogan’s Finance Minister and more importantly, his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, became another target of Twitter attacks. In his tweet, Albayrak heralded the birth of his and his wife’s fourth child, Erdogan’s grandson. Reactions started flooding in as some celebrated, while many ridiculed and directed harsh criticisms towards the announcement. Probably due to his family ties or his boastful personality, Albayrak often produces very emotional negative reactions to the opposing political sides in Turkey, so the reactions to his tweet were not something that has never been seen before. However, this time, the usual Twitter exchanges became the hot topic of the day, prompting even the President to respond.

Following the tweet war, Erdoğan quickly announced that the public defamation of his son-in-law and his newborn grandson would not be tolerated. In short order, two people were arrested in connection with the insulting tweets. 

Another recent incident concerning the online interactions of the ruling establishment was the event that has since been dubbed “the Dislike Insurrection.” In order to appease and approach the younger generations, President Erdoğan had a live YouTube show a day before the university entrance exams. During the show, he answered questions from a select group of young people. While the ruling party’s events are usually very controlled, that did not seem to be the case this time, as in the beginning, the show was open to comments. Comments saying “No More Votes” started publicly pouring in on the screen next to the President in a kind of unexpected flood. The video stream administrators quickly closed the option to comment. However, as it usually goes with attempts at online censorship, this only prompted people to exhibit their opposition even more, in this case by clicking on the dislike button for the event. In a short period of time, there were around 300,000 dislikes. 

These turbulent online exchanges and incidents were quickly lumped together as supposed proof that a new, stricter law regulating the social media is a “necessity.” Yet, as it has also become a practice by the ruling coalition, the public does not really know the details of the new law, just that the government will attempt to gain more control over online communication. 

Mahir Ünal, the government’s face for the regulation, vaguely explained that social media providers will be required to have offices in Turkey and abide by Turkish laws. This would possibly not sound all that bad had it not been for an inconvenient truth, namely that the Turkish government has not really been a champion of freedom of speech and free expression, to say the least. In practice, putting communication on social networks under the authority of the Turkish government would mean the removal of tweets and other content on a mass level and in line with the government’s arbitrary decisions about what is to be censored and prosecuted. Additionally, this kind of tight control could very well push some of the social media giants out of Turkey. This, again, could open up the possibility for the government in Turkey to create its own substitutes for social networks and streaming and content sharing platforms, following the examples of closed and heavily controlled systems, such as the one in China. 

In defending their idea of tighter control over online communication, the AKP tried to sell the narrative that they are following the example of Western countries like Germany and France, where everyone and particularly the most vulnerable members of society are protected by law from harassment and aggression in the online sphere. However, looking at the very concerning track record of the Turkish government in protecting the sanctity of freedom, one can’t help but wonder if the desire to protect is as genuine of a motivator as the drive for the ultimate control. More regulation has traditionally been in conflict with the basic principles of the freedom of speech in Turkey, and if the opposition is lured into supporting this new initiative, they will likely participate in the closure of a big part of the communication space, including its own.