inspired lawmakers rush to discuss social media regulations in Azerbaijan

On May 29, now former President Trump signed an executive order to “pressure regulators, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, to come up with new rules that would curtail that immunity.” The order came shortly after Twitter fact-checked Trump’s tweet “over a false assertion that mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud.” 

Two days later, lawmakers in Azerbaijan were back to discussing the possibility to control social media platforms. Speaking at the parliament session, member of the parliament and the ruling New Azerbaijan Party Siyavush Novruzov said, the US was finally seeing that the seeds it has been sowing across the world, are turning against America. He reminded the parliament that he raised the issue before, recalling saying, foreign-based entities, bear no responsibility for their actions while supporting terrorism, assassination attempts against world leaders, and extremism. The MP did not give examples to specific cases and instead said at the time when the issue of controlling social media platforms was mentioned, it was interpreted as a violation of the freedom of the media. 

Speaking on the same issue, another MP Javid Osmanov, said, it was time for Azerbaijan to adopt a similar law especially to strengthen the national security in Azerbaijan. 

This is not the first time Azerbaijan lawmakers discuss introducing regulatory measures for social media platforms. 

In 2018, MP Hadi Rajabli, said social media platforms that engage in anti-government propaganda must but controlled. Rajabli has previously criticized social networks. “Harmful factors such as social media, Facebook, messenger apps and the like play a big role in the disintegration of families, divorces, and early marriages, because many people use social media for entertainment and end up facing serious problems,” Rajabli said during one parliamentary discussion.  Another MP Araz Alizada went as far as to claim, normal people do not use social media platforms. 

In 2017, Azerbaijani lawmakers approved criminal charges for defamation against the president on social media platforms, the use of censorship during martial law; and restricting media access to information on private property and businesses. According to changes to Article 321(1) of the Criminal Code, a maximum sentence of five years in prison was introduced for defaming or humiliating the honor and dignity of the president in mass media and social media. The changes also increased the fine from AZN1500 to AZN2500.

In February 2018, ahead of the snap presidential election, the Central Election Commission Chairman Mazahir Panahov expressed concern over social media platforms. He claimed they have grown uncontrollably and are difficult to regulate during the election process. At a National Parliament Human Rights Committee meeting in January 2017, Chairman of the Press Council Aflatun Amashov discussed creating legislation to monitor and regulate bloggers and social media platforms. Other members of parliament supported the potential legislation, saying that there is a “serious need to regulate this field.” While no pieces of legislation have been proposed this is likely to change in the upcoming February discussions at the national parliament.

In 2015, the Ministry for Communication and Hight Technologies (now the Ministry of Transportation, Communication and High Technologies) said it will require some social media and instant messaging services, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber, to obtain a license in order to operate in Azerbaijan. While no progress has been towards enforcing this it would be interesting to watch the upcoming discussions at the parliament. 

Azerbaijani lawmakers have been eyeing Turkey’s recent laws on social media including the controversial bill adopted in July 2020 that requires social media giants, establish local representatives, store user data locally and comply with orders for content removal, face fines and slowed bandwidth in the case of noncompliance.