Solomon Islands Says Facebook Ban Is Needed for the Sake of 'National Unity'

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare meets with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a signing ceremony in 2019.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare meets with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a signing ceremony in 2019.
Photo: Thomas Peter-Pool (Getty Images)

It’s never the good ones who want to ban Facebook.

The President of the United States has refused to concede his loss in the national election, and the President-elect’s team has accused Facebook of “shredding the fabric of our democracy” with its failures to police misinformation that violates the network’s own rules. So, when the government of the Solomon Islands says that Facebook poses a threat to national unity, it’s easy to feel a bit of sympathy. But it seems we’re really just witnessing some opportunistic scoundrels trying to shut down public criticism.

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Last week, the Solomon Islands Cabinet approved a ban of Facebook in the island nation of about 650,000 people. At the time, the country’s Minister of Communication, Peter Shanel Agovaka, told the press that the ban was needed because government officials were being victimized by “abusive language” and “character assassination.” On Monday, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare addressed the Solomon Islands Parliament to further his case for a ban.

According to the Solomon Times, Sogavare was upset and complained that, “people have been defamed, the users who use false names, and people’s reputation that have been built up over the years have been torn down in a matter of minutes on Facebook.” The Prime Minister went on to say that the government once had to intervene in a case of ethnic abuse on the social network. “We have [a] duty to cultivate national unity and the happy coexistence of our people,” the nation’s leader said, according to Australian ABC.

While Facebook has been credibly accused of aiding ethnic cleansing in Myanmar through its rush to establish itself in the country and a failure to understand the cultural conflicts of the region, critics say that the situation in the Solomon Islands is more about its leaders being uncomfortable with criticism.

Earlier this month, reports began to spread on Facebook accusing the Solomon Islands government of misappropriating funds intended for economic relief amidst the covid-19 pandemic, prompting calls for an audit of the program. “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,” Amnesty International’s Kate Schuetze said in a statement. The human rights organization argues that the Facebook ban violates the Solomon Islands constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.

The ban has not gone into effect yet and the country’s Communication Minister told the Solomon Times that the country still has a free traditional press but, “at the moment, there is no legislation to govern the use of the internet.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. According to Amnesty International, the only other countries in the world with full bans on Facebook in place are China, North Korea, and Iran.

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It’s a nice reminder for lawmakers in the U.S. that repealing the legislation that governs our own internet won’t necessarily translate into more free speech, and the best way to rid ourselves of Facebook is to stop using it.

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