The Solomon Islands government announced a plan on Monday to temporarily ban residents from using Facebook.
Prime minister Manasseh Sogavare and communication and civil aviation minister Peter Agovaka said the ban intends to curtail “abusive language” and “character assassination” of government officials. In 2019 residents used Facebook to organize protests against Sogavare’s election.
Agovaka also cited the lack of regulations on Facebook as a reason for the ban. He said legislation must be implemented to protect children from downloading harmful content from the platform.
Many residents use Facebook as their primary mode of communication. It has been a critical tool for accessing information about COVID-19. The prime minister himself has streamed national addresses through the platform.
Agovaka claimed the ban will not impact freedom of the press, but other government officials and human rights organizations have expressed concern about the implications this will have on freedom of expression.
Opposition party MP Peter Kenilorea said, “Reports of a ban or suspension of FB is a grave concern for Solomon Islands, a democratic country. Cabinet is now strangling the very right it should be upholding. This decision should be condemned by all freedom-loving Solomon Islanders.”
Other Pacific countries, including Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea, have considered a ban. But only North Korea, Iran and China currently have similar bans in place.
Critics have attributed this move to China’s influence in the Solomon Islands. Last year, the Solomon Island government revoked their recognition of Taiwan as an independent nation and established diplomatic relationships with Beijing.
The government has not yet released plans to institute the ban. “The government is still in discussion with the operators to work out how this can be done. The operators shall need to establish a firewall to block Facebook,” Agovaka said.