Papua New Guinea, a nation of over 8 million, has announced that it will shut down Facebook for a month. The PNG government says that the shutdown will give it time to assess the spread of objectionable content on the site like porn and fake news. The government also said that it’s exploring the creation of its own social media site to replace Facebook.
“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,” Communications Minister Sam Basil told PNG’s Post Courier newspaper. “This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly.”
Facebook is already officially blocked in countries like China, Iran, and North Korea, though some users are able to get around the block with technical workarounds like VPNs that route traffic through other countries. China has a sophisticated network of censors policing internet content, so workarounds are increasingly difficult to use.
Basil said that the looming shut down of Facebook is in accordance with Papua New Guinea’s Cyber Crime Act, passed in 2016. But he also floated the idea that his country might work on creating a state-run social network that could be an alternative to Facebook.
“We can also look at the possibility of creating a new social network site for PNG citizens to use with genuine profiles as well,” Basil told the Post Courier.
“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.”
Basil has previously noted that countries like Papua New Guinea haven’t been able to properly assess the damage that Facebook has done after it was revealed in March that the company mishandled the user data of millions. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has faced congressional and parliamentary inquiries in the U.S. and Europe in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but the social media company has millions of users around the world outside of the U.S. and Europe. Zuckerberg was in Europe last week, testifying in front of European Parliament and meeting with France’s president Emmanuel Macron.
Facebook has recently faced criticism in southeast Asia for it role in spreading hate speech in Myanmar. Tens of thousands of Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar, fled to Bangladesh last year after facing genocide in the country. Facebook was used as a platform for demonizing the Rohingya people.
According to research obtained by The Guardian, just 12 percent of the PNG population uses Facebook, which will likely mean that public resistance to the ban will be minimal. Indonesia threatened to ban Facebook in April after the Cambridge Analytica breach was reported, but a ban in that country would likely face major backlash. Roughly 140 million people use Facebook in Indonesia, making the country one of Facebook’s largest markets along with India, the U.S. and Brazil.
Facebook did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. We’ll update this post if we hear back.
Update, 1:50pm: A Facebook spokesperson finally got back to Gizmodo, saying “We have reached out to the government to understand their concerns.” So I guess we’ll see how that goes for them.