The proposed ban was brought to Cabinet by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Communication and Civil Aviation Minister, Peter Shanel Agovaka, on November 16. The ministers claim the social media platform lacks essential laws and regulations and is propagating abusive language against ministers, character assassination and defamation.
Despite the proposal, which would also impact the media’s access to information, Agovaka said media should not have cause for concern as there will still be freedom of the press. “The use of the internet now in Solomon Islands needs to be properly regulated to safeguard our young people from harmful content,” said Agovaka.
Media reports indicate that anti-government rhetoric on Facebook was a significant factor in instigating riots in the nation’s capital, Honiara, in 2019 in the days after Sogavare’s election. The Solomon Islands also maintains a strong relationship with China, which banned Facebook over a decade ago and has growing influence in the Melanesian archipelago. The island nation switched from recognising Taiwan in September 2019, perceived as an attempt to increase diplomatic relations with Beijing.
Opposition minister and foreign relations committee chairman, Peter Kenilorea Jr, said he is ‘gravely’ concerned at the “assault on freedom of expression” should the ban be implemented, stating:“This decision should be condemned by all freedom-loving Solomon Islanders.”
Facebook has around 120,000 users in the Solomon Islands, and over 2.4 billion users worldwide. Many media organisations in the Pacific nation use Facebook as a means to disseminate information to the public, with the government also using it to provide public health communications during the Covid-19 pandemic and broadcast national addresses.
The IFJ said: “A ban on Facebook in the Solomon Islands would not only directly restrict public access to information, but it would gravely inhibit press freedom as a source of information and platform for public dissemination.”