Solomons to ban Facebook but claims ‘media freedom to remain’

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Facebook ban advocate Communication Minister Agovaka ... “The use of the internet now in Solomon Islands needs to be properly regulated." Image: UN

By Georgina Kekea in Honiara

The Solomon Islands cabinet has agreed to ban the world’s biggest social networking platform Facebook in the country.

The submission for the ban on Facebook was said to be brought to cabinet by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Communication and Civil Aviation Minister Peter Shanel Agovaka.

Minister Agovaka told the Solomon Times Online that this ban was made because of the controversial issues raised via Facebook.

“Abusive language against ministers, the Prime Minister, character assassination, defamation of character, all these are issues of concern,” Agovaka said.

He said there were concerns that there were also no laws or regulations covering Facebook so such a ban was needed.

“The use of the internet now in Solomon Islands needs to be properly regulated to safeguard our young people from harmful content,” he said.

“At the moment there is no legislation to govern the use of the internet and even young kids can download harmful stuff from the internet.”

Controversial issues raised
Agovaka said this was in addition to the controversial issues raised via Facebook.

However, he said the media should not have any cause for concern as there was still “freedom of the press”.

He said media organisations would continue to operate as normal except for the closure of Facebook.

Most media organisations in Solomon Islands currently use Facebook to also disseminate information to the public. The office of the Prime Minister also does a live video stream of his national address via Facebook to reach a wider audience.

“The government is still in discussion with the operators to work out how this can be done. The operators shall need to establish a firewall to block Facebook,” Agovaka said.

It is anticipated that a ban on Facebook would greatly affect much needed revenue for the media.

As of October 2020, NapoleonCat, a social media management tool, said there were 120,000 Facebook users in Solomon Islands. People aged 18 to 24 were said to be the largest user group (45,000).

2.4 billion users
Facebook has 2.4 billion users.

Solomon Islands is not the only country in the Pacific considering a ban on Facebook.

In July 2020, the Samoan government was seriously looking at banning Facebook.

In 2018, the Papua New Guinea government sought to ban Facebook for a month while in the following year Tonga considered banning Facebook.

Only four countries in the world have banned Facebook – China, Iran, North Korea and Syria.

Other countries have only imposed bans on Facebook temporarily in the past.

‘Reflection of people’s frustration’
The outspoken Premier of Malaita Province, Daniel Suidani, was among the first to blast the government, saying the proposed plan to ban Facebook was not the answer to peoples’ frustrations, reports Solomons Business Magazine.

“What will the government achieve by banning Facebook from the country? So many people, including myself, cannot see any better reason to ban the world’s most popular social network from Solomon Islands,” he said in a statement today.

“It should be plain and clear to the national government and the cabinet that complaints seen on Facebook are a reflection of people’s frustration towards the government. Especially on how the government is running the affairs of the country.

It is simple [that] one cannot be his own judge,” said Suidani.

He said the cabinet needed not to go to Pluto or to the Moon to see why people made their criticisms on social media like Facebook.

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