SYDNEY, May 30, 2018 (AFP) : Papua New Guinea said Wednesday it was
mulling a temporary shutdown of Facebook to uncover false accounts and block
fake news in the Pacific nation, which hosts a major global summit later this
The proposal, which Communications Minister Sam Basil said could lead to
replacing Facebook with a locally developed social networking platform, was
ridiculed as ill-timed and unworkable by opponents.
Basil floated the idea of a one-month shutdown on Tuesday, saying it would
“allow information to be collected” on fake accounts and users who upload
pornography and defamatory information so that they could be removed from the
“This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social
network responsibly,” he said.
Basil also said PNG could create a local alternative to Facebook, which
has been rocked by revelations that it improperly shared the personal data of
87 million users with British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.
“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 was quoted as saying by local
No timeframe was given on the potential shutdown, although some reports
suggested it could coincide with Port Moresby hosting the APEC (Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation) summit later this year.
A spokesperson for Facebook in Sydney said they had reached out to PNG
authorities and were “working to address their concerns”.
Basil issued a follow-up statement Wednesday acknowledging that “Facebook
use in PNG is not limited to personal chats and blogs” but also serves as a
forum for legitimate commercial and information services.
But he stood firm on pursuing a study of “the advantages and disadvantages
of use of Facebook” and of “vulnerabilities” linked to personal data use and
PNG Institute of National Affairs executive director Paul Barker said
shutting down Facebook would make a mockery of the nation during the 21-
member APEC summit, expected to be attended by US President Donald Trump.
“The APEC meeting is all about promoting the digital era to assist
business, develop economies, and improve citizen welfare in member
countries,” he told the PNG Post Courier newspaper Wednesday.
“It would be a travesty if PNG sought to close down Facebook during the
APEC month, making PNG seem rather foolish.”
Facebook is widely used in PNG to discuss politics and expose corruption
and MPs and officials have shown a high degree of sensitivity to posts in the
past, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, one of the few
foreign media groups based in the country.
Basil denied the proposed ban was a threat to freedom of speech.
“I don’t think so because MPs are open to criticism,” he said.
Opposition MP Bryan Kramer, who has a large following on Facebook, called
the proposal ridiculous.
“The reason the word dumb comes to mind is because how does one shut down
a platform to carry out research on it,” he said Wednesday.
“It would be equivalent to saying we are carrying out research on the
negative effects of TV so we are turning it off so we can study a blank