Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, the Minister responsible for Telecommunications, has informed Parliament that a cyber crime bill currently being developed will address the increasing issues and concerns regarding social media, especially Facebook.
He made the statement during the Ordinary Parliament sitting when responding to concerns raised by Malekula Member of Parliament, Sato Kilman regarding allegations made against him on the popular social media site.
MP Kilman referred to a post allegedly made by a fake ID that was circulated on Facebook, carrying allegations that the former Vanuatu Prime Minister had at least six bank accounts in Hong Kong with a total amount of 8 million euros.
“There are allegations that the Minister for Foreign Affairs is responsible for the post,” MP Kilman alleged.
“Does the government have resources to check such allegations before posting in public and tarnishing someone’s reputation?
“Can the police investigate if such allegations are true or not?
“You can apologise later but by then the damage has been done, a person’s credibility has been ruined. That happens to me but am sure it can happen to any of us.”
MP Kilman then asked the Prime Minister if the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) can use its resources to track down whoever is responsible for such posts.
In response, Prime Minister Salwai said the government was aware of emerging issues regarding Facebook.
“The government is working on a Cyber Crime Act, which will likely be ready by the next Parliament session to address this issue because Facebook has gone beyond [control],” said Prime Minister Salwai.
He said Facebook was not only a national but an international issue.
“It was the first agenda discussed during the Commonwealth Leaders meeting in London because people are using it to create a lot of social problems and attack people without substantiating information,” said Prime Minister Salwai.
He added that the issue was common in the Pacific and also in Vanuatu, people were using Facebook for political gain, attacking and making false statements or allegations about others.
“I think it is about time we should address this issue and as the Minister responsible for Telecommunications I want to announce to the House that the Cyber Crime Bill will come before this Parliament so we can control the use of social media.
“It has come to an extent where people feel free to say anything about others.”
On the other hand, PM Salwai said social media, especially Facebook, was a good communication tool but people were using it in the wrong way.
In a supplementary comment to the Prime Minister’s response, Foreign Affairs Minister Ralph Regenvanu confirmed seeing the post which he alleged was posted by a fake ID and not him as claimed.
Minister Regenvanu also confirmed allegations made by an adviser of a MP that he was the person behind the fake ID was false.
Minister Regenvanu said that out of all members of the House, being a regular Facebook user he had been the subject of many false allegations.
“That is what we should expect as MPs, we become figures of public scrutiny, you will find a lot of false allegations against me in Facebook,” he said.
“For example, they alleged I signed an agreement for the Chinese to build a military base here.
“I agree with the Prime Minister that we should have more control but we have to have some line so we don’t have too much control on media because freedom of expression is a constitutional right.
“We also have media freedom so we have to draw a fine line between unsubstantiated stories and balanced stories.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have that in Facebook so we have to look into that.”
The Pacific Media Centre republishes Vanuatu Daily Post stories with permission.