The Solomon Islands Government continues to defend its decision to place a temporary ban on Facebook, a move it says is aimed at addressing cyber-bullying and online defamation.
The Solomon Islands are a sovereign state consisting of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands in Oceania lying to the east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu.
The ban, which has not yet come into effect, received an angry response online after it was announced last week. Communications officials are expected to meet with internet and telecommunications providers in Solomon Islands to discuss how they will block the world’s largest social media network.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told the nation’s Parliament the ban was necessary in order to preserve national unity. The proposed ban was announced just weeks after the Solomon Islands Government faced criticism over documents leaked on Facebook that showed how COVID-19 funds for economic recovery had been spent.
Mr Sogavare said the planned ban mainly targeted young people, but said it was aimed at protecting them from “vile abusive language” and not an attempt at silencing them.
It is not the first time a Pacific government has threatened to block the social media site — leaders in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa have all considered the same approach.
Nurse Margaret Tadokata, who has lived in Australia for decades, told ABC that Facebook helped her stay close to her family back home, especially during this year’s unprecedented restrictions on international travel.
The proposed ban has drawn a heated response from the Government’s opponents, with Opposition leader Matthew Wale calling the ban “pathetic” and unjust. “Seventy per cent of our population is under the age of 30 … and that is the group that is highly visible on social media, especially Facebook,” he told ABC.
Facebook is a hugely popular forum for discussion in the Solomons with its population of around 650,000 spread out over a sprawling cluster of islands. The government also uses Facebook to broadcast official speeches by the prime minister and to distribute health information during the coronavirus pandemic.
Facebook spokeswoman said the company was contacting the Solomons government to discuss the issue.