ANKARA - Turkey's Parliament has passed a controversial bill which gives the government greater control of social media, sparking concerns about freedom of expression in the country.

Under the new law approved on Wednesday, social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have to ensure they have local representatives in Turkey and to comply with court orders over the removal of certain content.

Companies could face fines, the blocking of advertisements or have bandwidth slashed by up to 90 percent, essentially blocking access, under the new regulations.

The law, which targets social networks with more than a million unique daily visits, also says servers with Turkish users' data must be stored in Turkey.

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

Human rights groups and the opposition are worried over what they call the erosion of freedom of expression in Turkey, where criminal proceedings for "insulting" President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on social media are common.

They argue that increased control of social media will also limit access to independent or critical information in a country where the news media is in the hands of government-friendly businessmen or controlled by the state.

"Why now?" asked Yaman Akdeniz, professor at Istanbul's Bilgi University and also a cyber-rights expert.

"While print and broadcast media platforms are already under government control, social networks are relatively free.

"Social networks have become one of the few spaces for free and effective expression in Turkey," he told the AFP news agency.(FA)