Papua New Guinea’s communication minister, Sam Basil, says analysts will use the one-month shutdown period to study the use of Facebook while filtering out and removing fake accounts, misleading news and pornography.
“This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly,” Basil told the Post Courier newspaper.
Basil says the government has the power to enforce the ban under its Cyber Crime Act, which was passed in 2016.
“We cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country,” he said.
He added that the government is also considering establishing its own state-run social media network that it can monitor more closely.
“If there need be, then we can gather our local applications developers to create a site that is more conducive for Papua New Guineans to communicate within the country and abroad as well,” Basil said.
Papua New Guinea’s government cited Facebook’s role in spreading fake news during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Brexit campaign in its decision.
Facebook has also been blamed for allowing the spread of hatred toward the Rohingya people in Myanmar, where tens of thousands were forced to flee the country in the face of suspected ethnic cleansing last year.
“We have reached out to the government to understand their concerns,” a Facebook spokesperson told GlobalNews.ca.
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A ban on Facebook could trigger a backlash among the eight million citizens of Papua New Guinea, although only about 10 per cent of the population actually uses the internet, according to 2016 data from the World Bank.
The country’s telecom infrastructure is weak and connected to the mainland by just a handful of undersea cables, making cellphones and data plans relatively expensive. However, some cellphone providers offer unlimited internet access to users who browse the web exclusively through social media platforms, including Facebook.
It’s unclear when the ban will come into effect, but it could receive a publicity boost if it happens sometime at the end of the year. That’s when world leaders and journalists will descend on Papua New Guinea for the APEC CEO summit, scheduled for Nov. 12-18.