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May 30, 2018, 12:05 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   May 30, 2018

Papua New Guinea, the southwest Pacific nation of more than 8 million people, may soon be getting what a thousand Medium pieces have called for: life without Facebook. The country’s government is planning a nationwide Facebook blackout for what it is calling research purposes, the country’s Post-Courier reported on Tuesday.

“The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed,” the country’s minister for for communications, information technology, and energy Sam Basil told the Post-Courier in an initial announcement that kicked off an outpouring of confusion and condemnation.

“We can also look at the possibility of creating a new social network site for PNG citizens to use with genuine profiles as well,” he added. “If there need be then we can gather our local applications developers to create a site that is more conducive for Papua New Guineans to communicate within the country and abroad as well.” The original story didn’t give a timeline for the shutdown.

On Wednesday, though, Basil spoke again to the Post-Courier, and the plan, which he said is just one of many options the government is considering, now seems a bit less definitive:

As a Minister in the O’Neill Government, I need to take informed and appropriate action on behalf of PNG citizens and residents using Facebook and other IT social networks. I am aware that Facebook use in PNG is not limited to personal chats and blogs. It is also used as a forum for advertising by individuals, organizations both public and private sector to post and download public notices, position vacancies and job searches, real estates and other commercial activities.

My directives to my line agencies is to provide me with a brief covering both the advantages and disadvantages of use of Facebook, the vulnerabilities that includes not just the protection of personal data, but wider social issues like security and safety of users, the time-consumption and productivity of users — especially school-age children and employees, and of course the wider issue of cyber security and cybercrime. I also want to know what other countries have done in relation to Facebook and other social networks – and the consequential effect or impact. Based on this brief, and the regulatory powers based on relevant laws of ICT, I will consider relevant — and responsible — government action.

The brief I require will also include issue of unidentified Facebook users using false IDs to commit cybercrimes including defamation, fake news, pornographic and other illicit materials which is behind the SIM Card Registration.

There’s been no word on whether any of these proposals would have applied to the Facebook-owned WhatsApp or Instagram. (I reached out to Basil for further clarification, but as it’s a 14-hour time difference, I don’t expect to hear back immediately.)

Papua New Guinea was one of the few dozen countries in the world that arrived at Facebook largely through the social media company’s controversial Free Basics program, which the Outline recently reported has quietly been phased out there. Internet penetration there is estimated to be just over 10 percent of the total population (though this video about social media use from one of Papua New Guinea’s commercial TV channels claims the country has “two million people with Facebook accounts”).

The country is also only the latest in a string of Asian countries that have used the threat of fake news to consider — and in several cases take — extraordinary actions to limit the free flow of information online.

Photo by Ksayer1 used under a Creative Commons license.

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