Papua New Guinea’s Communications Minister Timothy Masiu has announced stringent measures to control social media in the country for the next 10 days of the State of Emergency.
The government’s threat drew a sharp rebuke from former prime minister Peter O’Neill who called the move a “sinister fear campaign against the people” and “a threat on the media freedom” of ordinary citizens.
Masiu, a former journalist before becoming a politician, warned that the government would not hesitate to shut down social media applications and sites if there was continuous abuse and misuse of social media in spreading fake news, misinformation and disinformation in the country.
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He issued the warning citing significant evidence of serious abuse of social media spreading false information that led to destruction of properties in the capital Port Moresby and parts of the country in last week’s Black Wednesday resulting in deaths.
Masiu said people who engaged in such bogus activity would lose their social media accounts and they could be arrested and charged for fomenting acts of violence.
He said: “I have statutory power under the National Information and Communication Technology Act 2009 to restrict access to social media sites and applications if this continues.
“The Ministry of ICT has observed a sharp spike in the use of social media from Wednesday, January 10, 2024, and many are misinformation and disinformation and we now give 10 days effective from today for people to adhere or face a complete shutdown of social media sites and applications for the duration of the State of Emergency. ”
‘Monitoring of false information’
He said discussions on social media that incited violence, destruction, spreading of false information or confidential government information, opinions that were wrong, or sending false information would be monitored and legal action taken immediately.
Masiu said national security, public emergency and public safety was critical to a secure nation and a “happy and safe country”.
“I have instructed the agencies under my ministry to strengthen monitoring and report any abuses of social media to the police cybercrime unit to begin investigations, arrest and prosecute and also take down fake accounts and sites.”
Last Friday, when introducing the two-week State of Emergency following Black Wednesday, Prime Minister James Marape announced draconian emergency measures including searches of private homes, property, vehicle and phones by government agents.
Masiu said PNG was a civilised country and citizens must abide by rules and laws. Every citizen had a duty and obligation to ensure “we progress to be a better country”.
However, an irate O’Neill said: “It is not surprising that we see intimidating armoured personnel carriers on the streets today in Port Moresby and now threats that our freedom of speech will be removed with the potential cancellation of social media.
“The government is doing its very best to shut down our constitutional rights in a fear campaign.”
Government ‘fears people’s voices’
O’Neill continued to counter the government plan by suggesting the government now feared the people’s voices.
“It seems that the government is in fear of the voice of its own people when it should instead be listening to the struggle of the people who discuss online the bad governance practices of this government; high unemployment; budget in a mess and crippling cost of living,” he said.
“That is what people are talking about on the street, in their homes and on social media. Will they next enter our homes and monitor conversation’s between family members?
“Government should listen up and stop this nonsense of trying to control our vibrant democracy.
Get back to basics and build our country; live within our means and develop jobs and provide quality healthcare and education. Get back to old fashioned policing not intimidation.”
Opposition Leader Joseph Lelang and his deputy Douglas Tomuriesa did not respond to PNG Post-Courier questions last night.
Republished with permission.