The Turkish parliament passed on Wednesday a controversial bill, which gives the government greater control of social media, sparking concerns about freedom of expression in the country.

Under the new bill, social media giants with over one million users a day, such as Facebook and Twitter, will need to have offices with local representatives in Turkey, tasked with complying with government complaints that request the removal of certain content from their platforms.

Failure to comply with court orders, would mean large fines, advertising bans and bandwidth restrictions that would slow down the social media network, making it almost unusable. It also foresees that Turkish users’ data need to be stored locally, in Turkey, while penalties will also be imposed if the content found to be unacceptable is not blocked or removed within 24 hours.

The new social media bill has sparked acute criticism, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) warning that the government’s move “will greatly increase online censorship, particularly in light of the country’s poor record on freedom of expression.”

“If passed, the new law will enable the government to control social media, to get content removed at will, and to arbitrarily target individual users,” said Tom Porteous, HRW deputy program director. He added that “social media is a lifeline for many people who use it to access news, so this law signals a new dark era of online censorship.”

The law was submitted by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party and its nationalist partner, the National Movement Party (MHP), which have a majority in the parliament.

It was meant to protect users and fight cybercrime, with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan citing the need to fight “immoral acts” online and comments by “dark-hearted” users.

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