Facebook has been forced to appear before both the US Congress and British Parliament for its alleged role in spreading misinformation and its mishandling of user data, but neither country has even hinted that they might block the giant social network because of its negative effects. Papua New Guinea, however, has decided to do exactly that. The government of the country, which has a population of about eight million, has announced that it will block access to Facebook for a month.
In comments made to the country’s Post-Courier newspaper, Papua New Guinea’s communication minister, Sam Basil, suggested that a month-long period of Facebook-free existence would allow the government to investigate both the positive and negative effects of using the social network. But the minister also appeared to suggest that part of what he has in mind is identifying bad actors who post false or offensive information on the platform so that they can be removed. Basil said:
The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed. This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly.
Basil also floated the idea that if the government’s investigation finds significant negative effects from Facebook, Papua New Guinea might choose to create its own online social network. “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,” he told the newspaper.
While some might cheer Papua New Guinea’s move, others are concerned about the impact such a ban could have on the information diet of the country’s citizens. While only about 10 percent of the country has internet access, mobile phones have become hugely popular and Facebook is a source of news for many, since it is often a default application installed on new phones. Removing access can play havoc in such developing markets, as journalists who cover Cambodia have described to CJR.
2. To what extent is this going to hamper free expression and communications in the country? I don’t know a lot about PNG specifically but in many developing countries FB is how most people use the internet and access news.
— Stephanie MacLellan (@smaclellan) May 29, 2018
Papua New Guinea isn’t the first country to block access to Facebook for an extended period of time. The government of India banned access to Facebook and a range of other social apps (including WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Twitter) for a month in the Kashmir region last year because it was worried about what it called “antisocial” elements, including separatists, using them for nefarious purposes. Facebook has also been blocked for some time in North Korea, as well as China and Iran.
Here’s more on Facebook and its struggles in various countries:
- Sri Lanka: The social network and several other platforms including WhatsApp were shut down briefly earlier this year during anti-Muslim riots in that country, because the government said it was concerned that Facebook and other services were being used to spread hate and fuel the rioting. Buddhist groups attacked Muslim temples and businesses, setting fires and killing two people.
- Myanmar: Facebook has also come under fire in the country formerly known as Burma for its role in distributing hate speech and misinformation directed at the Rohingya, which many activists and journalists believe has contributed to persecution of members of the Muslim ethnic group. Facebook says it is beefing up the resources it devotes to Myanmar in the hope of solving the problem.
- Pakistan: The government shut down access to Facebook in Pakistan, as well as YouTube and Twitter, for 24 hours in November of last year, in an attempt to prevent information from spreading about a crackdown on religious protesters in the capital of Islamabad that had led to rioting. The ban also extended to all national private news channels operating in the country.
- North Korea: Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un moved to block Facebook and several other social-networking sites in 2016, including Twitter and YouTube. Prior to that decision, sites like Facebook were available to foreign visitors as well as certain North Korean citizens with internet access, but the government chose to block them completely in much the same way as China.
Other notable stories:
- Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, a former Army veteran who became an investigative journalist and a strong critic of the Russian government, was shot and killed at his home in Ukraine on Tuesday, according to multiple reports. More than a dozen Russian journalists have died under mysterious circumstances during the past decade.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists says a Democratic Party lawsuit against WikiLeaks over the release of material from hacked computers during the 2016 election “goes against press freedom precedents going back to the Pentagon Papers and contains arguments that could make it more difficult for reporters to do their jobs,” according to a number of First Amendment experts.
- On CJR’s latest podcast, Jessica Lessin—the founder of a subscription-only tech news site known as The Information—interviews Adam Mosseri, the man who until recently was in charge of the Facebook News Feed. In the discussion, which was taped during a CJR event in San Francisco earlier this month that was co-hosted by The Information, Lessin asks Mosseri how the giant social network views its relationship with the media, and what it’s doing to improve it.
- Journalists at one of Turkey’s few remaining independent news outlets describe to The Wall Street Journal what it’s like to be imprisoned for doing their jobs. More than a dozen reporters and editors were recently released on bail after being charged with supporting terrorism, in what press-freedom advocates say was an attempt by the government to muzzle the publication.
- The Russian government has reportedly asked for Apple’s help in blocking usage of the secure messaging app Telegram in that country, after a ban on the service failed to have much effect. The Russian authorities banned the app after the company refused to provide the encryption keys it uses, which would have allowed the government to see user and message data.
A lawyer representing actor Morgan Freeman has sent a letter to CNN demanding that the news outlet take down a story that alleges multiple incidents of sexual harassment by the actor. According to Freeman’s lawyer, two of the sources CNN used have said they were not harassed and that the network misrepresented their stories. CNN says it stands by its reporting.
Correction: Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko is alive. He said Wednesday that he co-operated with Ukrainian authorities in faking his own death as a way of trapping a Russian-backed hit man who had been assigned to kill him.