The Solomon Islands Government has defended its decision to place a temporary ban on Facebook, a move it says is aimed at tackling cyberbullying and online defamation.
- The Pacific nation’s Government said Facebook was “undermining” national unity
- It is not yet known how exactly authorities will go about blocking the site
- The decision has been widely criticised by the public and the political opposition
The ban, which has not yet come into effect, received an angry response online after it was announced last week.
Communications officials are expected to meet with internet and telecommunications providers in Solomon Islands to discuss how they will block the world’s largest social media network.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told the nation’s Parliament today the ban was necessary in order to preserve national unity.
“Cyberbullying on Facebook is widespread, people have been defamed by users who use fake names, and people’s reputations that have been built up over the years [are destroyed] in a matter of minutes,” he said.
Mr Sogavare said the planned ban mainly targeted young people, but said it was aimed at protecting them from “vile abusive language” and not an attempt at silencing them.
The exact technical details of how the ban would work — whether it would involve the use of a firewall, for example — are still being ironed out.
It has drawn a heated response from the Government’s opponents, with Opposition leader Matthew Wale labelling the ban “pathetic” and unjust.
“Seventy per cent of our population is under the age of 30 … and that is the group that is highly visible on social media, especially Facebook,” he told the ABC.
“This is really pathetic. The reasons given for the ban are not weighty enough.”
Facebook a lifeline for Solomon Islanders living abroad
The temporary ban will stay in place until laws can be passed that would govern user behaviour on Facebook.
It is not the first time a Pacific government has threatened to block the social media site — leaders in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa have all considered the same approach.
Nurse Margaret Tadokata, who has lived in Australia for decades, told the ABC that Facebook helped her stay close to her family back home, especially during this year’s unprecedented restrictions on international travel.
“My mum was very sick, and she went downhill very quickly, within like 10 days, and then we lost her,” she said.
Like many Solomon Islanders living overseas, the Government’s decision has her perplexed and worried.
At $2 a minute, she says phoning home from Australia is out of the question.
“Even though I’ve been in Australia for more than 20 years, my connection and my culture and family are very important to me, and Facebook has made that easy for me,” Ms Tadokata said.
A few weeks ago, the Solomon Islands Government faced criticism over documents leaked on Facebook that showed how COVID-19 funds for economic recovery had been spent.
Ruth Liloqula, the head of the anti-corruption group Transparency Solomon Islands, said she believed such leaks were the real reason behind the ban, which she said was “an indication that our Government is becoming very authoritarian”.
Communications Minister Peter Shanel Agovaka rejected this claim, and told the ABC freedom of expression would not be undermined as newspapers and other media would still be available.
Facebook said it was reaching out to local officials to discuss the move, which it said would “impact thousands of people in the Solomon Islands who use our services to connect and engage in important discussions across the Pacific”.