By ANDREW FANASIA
FACEBOOK (FB) Company will discuss with the government about the Cabinet’s decision to temporarily ban Facebook in Solomon Islands in the coming days.
That’s according to Facebook Company Spokesperson based in Australia last night.
The Facebook spokesperson was responding to this paper’s queries about the government’s decision to suspend Facebook in the country.
The reasons according to the Minister for Communication and Civial Aviation Peter Shanel Agovaka are to limit abusive language, character assassination and defamation of character.
He also told Solomon Times Online that there were concerns that there are no laws or regulations on Facebook thus the need for such action.
But the Facebook Spokesperson in a statement said they will discuss the issue with Solomon Islands Government.
“We’re reaching out to the Solomon Islands government to discuss today’s (yesterday’s) decision.
“This move will impact thousands of people in the Solomon Islands who use our services to connect and engage in important discussions across the Pacific,” a Facebook company spokesperson said.
This paper also queried the government yesterday as to when the ban will be effective but a government official told this paper that they will issue a press statement.
Communications Minister Agovaka also told ABC News yesterday said the move is part of government’s response to personal abuse, defamation and lies spread on the social medium platform.
“We found that people use it to abuse others… it's not society friendly, and people have been using it to discredit people and all sorts of abuse.”
Cabinet early this week has agreed to the proposed suspension and it is set to remain in place until the government has legislation controlling the use of Facebook
“We have no governance over it, we have no laws to govern the use of Facebook in our country… and we believe should have legislation that governs the use of Facebook,” Mr Agovaka told ABC.
In recent months the government has faced scathing criticism on Facebook, and recently a series of key documents have been leaked.
Minister Agovaka has denied the ban is political motivated, or limits free speech.
“This is by nothing to do with that, it is just a ban on a medium that is harmful to society.
“The other mediums are open, they can come up on newspaper, the radio and on the TV,” he told ABC.
There has already been a strong opposition voiced to the proposal on social media, but Mr Shanel Agovaka said the government is committed to the ban.
Meanwhile, local Facebook users criticised the government and described it as an attempt to interfere with the freedom of expression stipulated in the National Constitution.
Some critics said that the government is trying to put a stop to the ongoing criticisms from the public against the government leaders and their chaotic decision in this unprecedented times caused by COVID-19.
Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Peter Kenilorea Jnr in a statement also said that the temporary ban on Facebook was a “direct and brazen assault on the freedom of expression” guaranteed by the Solomons’ constitution.
“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.”
Kenilorea said the proposed ban was an attempt by the government to shield itself from criticism and accountability.
“As leaders, we need to be held accountable by the electorate that place us in positions of power. We need to face the music from time to time. This is democracy,” the MP said.
Responding to government’s plan to temporary ban Facebook Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher Kate Schuetze said last night:
“To ban a social media site simply because people are posting comments the authorities don’t like is a blatant and brazen attack on human rights.
“Protecting the sensitivities of government officials is not a justifiable reason to limit freedom of expression, which is also a right under the Constitution of the Solomon Islands.
“Given how important it is for people to quickly access information in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government may not just place political discourse and participation at risk, but even lives.
“Total bans on websites or internet information providers will almost never be justifiable under international human rights law.
“If the government goes ahead with its plan to totally ban Facebook, it would be joining just three other countries which currently do so: China, North Korea and Iran. Given those nations’ dire record on upholding freedom of expression, this would be a damning indictment of the Solomon Islands’ attitude towards human rights.
“If the Solomon Islands Cabinet has any respect for people’s rights, it should urgently rethink its decision to ban Facebook and allow everybody to peacefully express their opinions online.”
Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani also criticised the government’s attempt to suspend access to Facebook.
“Proposed ban of Facebook is not the answer to people’s frustrations,” he said in a statement yesterday.
Members of the business community also expressed their concern over the proposed ban.
The Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), as the peak body representing private sector, in a statement said it is particularly concerned with the negative impacts this decision will have on small micro businesses, entrepreneurs and those in the informal sector who depend on social media, especially facebook for marketing and advertising.
If implemented Solomon Islands would join China, Iran and North Korea to cease access to Facebook.
One of the Pacific countries Nauru had prohibited Facebook in 2015 but reactivates access in 2018.
The media is yet to see the official press statement from the government.