- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Papua New Guinea plans to temporarily block Facebook so that federal researchers can study the social network and identify users accused of violating the nation’s internet laws, a top government official said Tuesday.

Facebook can be expected to be banned in Papua New Guinea for about a month, said Sam Basil, a member of the National Parliament and the Pacific island country’s minister for Communications, Information Technology and Energy, regional media reported.

Mr. Basil said federal researchers and communications and IT regulators will study Facebook during the ban to analyze its impact on the public and enforce the nation’s Cyber Crime Act of 2016, the Papua New Guinea Post Courier reported.

“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,” Mr. Basil said, the Post Courier reported. “This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly.”

Officials will also will consider the possibility of launching a social network site for citizens to use as a government-approved alternative to Facebook, Mr. Basil said.

“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 said.

Upwards of 700,000 Papua New Guineans use Facebook, according to their government, or less than one-tenth of the country’s population, Australia’s ABC reported.

Nonetheless, Mr. Basil has decried the social network in the wake of recent revelations involving its ties to Cambridge Analytica, a British-based data and political consultancy firm that controversially amassed the personal information of 87 million Facebook users without their permission.

“Facebook, as a social network, came into to PNG riding on infrastructure of telecommunications and IT service providers,” Mr. Basil said last month. “The government, swept along by IT globalisation, never really had the chance to ascertain the advantages or disadvantages — and even educate and provide guidance on use of social networks like Facebook to PNG users.”

The Cambridge Analytica scandal “shows us the vulnerabilities that PNG and residents face on their personal data and exchanges when using this social network as well as other social network,” Mr. Basil added.

Papua New Guineans aren’t all in favor of the communications minister’s proposed ban, however, and his comments quickly drew criticism from other members of parliament.

“It’s a guise for them to test the water on what their capabilities are in controlling social media in PNG,” said Opposition MP Bryan Kramer, ABC reported. “It’s clear that the government’s intent is to prosecute those that have been aggressively critical of their policies and be able to monitor and establish who are those that are driving this public discontent against not only the Prime Minister but the government’s policies.”

Mr. Basil has not set a time for the proposed Facebook ban, the Post Courier reported.

Facebook “reached out to the government to understand their concerns,” a company spokesperson told The Washington Times.

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