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Future Society

Papua New Guinea Is About To Block Facebook To Curtail Hate Speech, Fake Profiles, And Porn

The government intends to explore how Facebook has been misused, but some in Papua New Guinea say they're about to lose their right to free speech.

Dan RobitzskiMay 30th 2018

The government of Papua New Guinea plans to block the entire country from accessing Facebook and may design its own state-run social media site as an alternative.

Communications Minister Sam Basil announced on Tuesday that the government would be blocking Facebook for one month in accordance with its 2016 Cyber Crime Act, as reported by Papua New Guinea’s Post-Courier. The government is hoping to learn more about how Facebook is being used to spread misleading information, fake accounts, and porn, the latter of which cannot legally be imported into the country.

Not everyone agrees that getting rid of Facebook is the best way to handle these issues. A day after the announcement, students and reporters began publishing articles in the Post-Courier arguing that banning Facebook is a violation of their free speech, as many in the nation feel social media is the only medium on which they can express honest opinions free of state influence. Others argued that the move is a waste of time, as the amount of improper use of Facebook is small compared to number of people who use the site responsibly.

The sources quoted in one Post-Courier article argue the government should be focusing on other problem areas and building public trust instead of taking away people’s voice and a source of information. However, it’s unclear just how influential this ban will be, as just 12 percent of people in Papua New Guinea use Facebook, and tools like VPNs could circumvent the ban anyway, according to Gizmodo.

In some ways, it’s almost refreshing to see a country respond to threats to its democracy (and their access to porn, which people in Papua New Guinea apparently use a lot) with such an extreme approach. It’s almost endearing to see the state so generously offer to to transparently take over its people’s data and their avenue for free speech (and, again, cut off the flow of porn).

In his announcement, Sam Basil said that the goal of the ban is to make sure real people use Facebook and social media responsibly, so any complaints about the government curbing free speech are speculative. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that the government of Papua New Guinea is taking the nuclear option, especially compared to the toothless responses from lawmakers in the United States and the European Union in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

An extreme reaction from Papua New Guinea is worth raising a skeptical eyebrow or two, and keeping a close watch on how its citizens are (or aren’t) able to voice their concerns in the future.

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