The country of Papua New Guinea is reportedly planning a month-long national ban of Facebook.
Why? To research the effect that the addictive social network has on the South Pacific island’s populace, and to root out “fake users”:
Communications Minister Sam Basil said that the shutdown would enable the department and National Research Institute to conduct further research on how the social network was being used by users.
“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,” Mr Basil said.
The Minister said that the department could better analyse the positive impact it would have on the population during the month-long shutdown and weigh the impact of progress without or with its use.
There certainly could be some positive impact in terms of productivity if residents of Papua New Guinea can’t get their Facebook fix, but it would clearly be bad news for companies which use Facebook to provide customer support or raise awareness about their products.
But the report about Papua New Guinea’s Facebook ban is frustratingly devoid of detail. When is this ban planned to begin? How will the ban be implemented? Couldn’t simple use of a VPN trick whatever is intending to block Facebook into thinking the user is going somewhere else entirely? Or will VPNs be blocked too?
Furthermore, how will the Papua New Guinea government measure the impact of the experiment? A month doesn’t sound like a very long time to measure the long term impact that deleting Facebook would have on islanders.
And what’s all this about “identifying users who upload pornographic images… and post false and misleading information”? How would a Facebook ban help with that? If Papua New Guinea is worried about “fake news” surely there are ways to measure and research that without issuing an outright ban on Facebook?
It’s all rather baffling. At least, until you see what else Sam Basil has to say:
“We can also look at the possibility of creating a new social network site for PNG citizens to use with genuine profiles as well.”
“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.”
And there you have it. It’s very easy to read into this that the-powers-that-be in Papua New Guinea are not very keen on Facebook, and in particular profiles that may be posting “false and misleading information”.
It would be easy to conclude that if the government’s month-long experiment concludes “irresponsible” Facebook use is having a negative impact on islanders’ social well-being, security and productivity, that it may use it as a springboard for creating its own version of Facebook.
A government’s own version of Facebook, with confirmed identities, where you would always know who said what and (presumably) who might be saying something that is critical of thoe in authority…
I’m no fan of Facebook, and I think everyone taking a break from Facebook is a healthy thing, but I’m not sure I like where a government-backed Facebook clone is heading.
Let’s hope instead that Papua New Guinea is as concerned as the rest of us should be about how Facebook users can find their personal information exploited and opinions unduly influenced by malicious actors.
Papua New Guinea currently has low internet and Facebook penetration compared to much of the rest of the world, so if it does wish to take action against the darker side of social media then now is possibly a good time to do it.
Just don’t build something worse to replace it.