TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands (TSI) would like to join other citizens in calling on and reminding the government that there are far more pressing issues afflicting the country, requiring urgent government attention rather than focusing to ban Facebook. In this day and age of technology, although Solomon Islands is still far behind with regards to technology, we are slowly adapting and evolving when it comes to the use of technology as a mode of communication through electro-magnetic systems. Facebook has been a useful medium of communication particularly with the younger generation, it also contributed a lot to emerging small businesses and entrepreneurs in the country. For the Minister to simply encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to use the period of any ban/suspension as a time to focus on other modes of marketing their products without actually providing them with the means to do so does not show a leader/government trying to address the country’s “decaying society”.
The lengthy statement by Minister of Communication and Aviation Mr. Peter Shanel Angovaka reflects one thing and that is, members of Parliament (MPs) not wanting citizens of this country to be informed and to freely voice their opinions. To enjoy their freedom of expression, their freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference and freedom from interference with his correspondence as stipulated in our Constitution. We must be realistic when we consider this matter, Facebook created an important medium where people are easily connected with friends and family and to grow their businesses. It has also created forums where citizens get connected and can share and raise their opinions. It is also through the use of these social media platforms that our citizens are able to raise their voice on issues affecting us on a national, regional and international level. One very good example is the use of social media platform by our current reigning Miss Solomon Islands to share the effects of climate change with BBC World News. Views shared through social media, using her platform to raise the issue of the ‘effects of climate change on small island nations like Solomon Islands, the plight of this nation and her family’s experience as shared through social media led to BBC World News interview on the effects of climate change in Solomon Islands.
TSI acknowledge that social media also has its downside however to ban/suspend this will not solve the potential threats identified by the Minister as threats to Solomon Islands public security, public safety, public morality and decaying society. The fact that citizens are taking to social media to express their frustrations indicates that citizens are triggered by something, they are not happy about something. The government should look into this, what causes these frustrations and consequently address them. To focus on banning/suspending this social media platform only aims to suppress the citizens and will not address these potential threats to this country. Instead of proposing to suspend/ban Facebook, leaders should also take advantage of social media as a means to reach out to citizens. Not all citizens can access the office of their constituency but then can easily access and communicate via social media.
In this case, one wonders where else do elected leaders think citizens can freely exercise their freedom of speech given that the mainstream media cannot even cater for 100 people to express their views in any given time compared to social media, Facebook builds technologies that gave millions of people the ability and power to be connected and stay connected. Citizens are enabled to speak their minds as and when an issue is raised regardless of where they reside, distance and time. Facebook is the only mode of communication that keep people together, keeping the nation united to hold their elected leaders accountable, easing tension and solving controversies since it is accessible anywhere, anytime for everyone to interact and compromise their differences.
Since Facebook was created and included in the social media platform, it makes life easier and more convenient for communication and disseminating information. The nature of Facebook as a means of communication are more effective and popular than the mode of communication used by the mainstream media (newspaper, radio, TV and website). The fact that Facebook is fast, shareable and interactive makes it more accessible, interesting and preferable for people to use other than using the other medium used by mainstream media. We must acknowledge that this is a changing world, more and more are resorting to this mode of sharing and connection given that it’s easy to use and is user friendly. The argument by the Minister of Communication and Aviation that the fundamental rights of citizens to freedom of speech will not be suppressed since the mainstream media remain accessible for public is deceptive in that not all citizens will readily access this. And as indicated earlier, the mode of communication used by the mainstream media cannot cater for even 50 people to express their views at one time. On the other hand, we have more than 300 people in this country share their opinion on national issues via Facebook every day.
Facebook, a massive social networking site has become a critical player in news. Its role has evolved from a network for friends to share personal information to a way for people to share, recommend and link together all kinds of information, including news. It helps to build strong business network. It also helps to find good jobs. You can find your old friends whom you had lost connection. You can find friends all over the world and is the cheapest means of staying connected to your families and relatives overseas.
The Minister went on to justify that suspending Facebook is part of government efforts to manage information. This is ridiculous, what management of information? On the contrary, Facebook has been a useful tool in government dissemination of information during this pandemic crisis. The Prime Minister’s weekly updates and the Covid-19 Committee’s updates are live streamed or replayed and accessed by the mass via Facebook. People do not easily access radios or newspapers but can easily access Facebook via phones. What the government failed to do is to stay answerable to the citizens when questions are raised or serious allegations of corruptions are exposed in Facebook to seek clarification from the government’s responsible authorities. There is nothing sinister or deemed a hinderance to the governance and administration of this country from what is posted on Facebook. It is the irresponsible attitude of leaders telling lies to the citizens and remote-controlling government authorities to give wrong information or remain silent that is more dangerous in breeding disunity, corruption and create bad relation between people and their government.
Transparency Solomon Islands see that the proposed suspension of Facebook is like adding more fuel to the fire by the executive government. Citizens are already frustrated with many questionable dealings by the government were never clarified instead propose to shut-out their voice (banning Facebook). The Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA) since coming into power has made controversial decisions that contradict its stand that it will ‘fight corruption head on’. Controversial decisions made behind closed doors, not taking into consideration the views of the people who voted them into Parliament. An example of such a controversial decision was the switch from Taiwan to mainland China. Despite majority of Solomon Islands citizens opposing the decision to switch, the government went on to sever ties with Taiwan. A decision that has been noted by citizens to be a reflection of a poor and selfish decision of a disconnected of a few and one that is driven with strings attached.
The Minister for Communication and Aviation referred to Facebook as contributing to the ‘decaying moral standards’ in this country is a lame excuse. Whilst there are some negative influences that comes with social media, Facebook should not be used as a scapegoat for the ‘decaying moral standards in our communities’. Indeed, the moral fabric of our communities are crumbling – some of our own citizens are freely brewing kwaso, using marijuana and other drugs, Seif Ples and other similar institutions are filled with women and girls who have been subjected to heinous sexual and physical abuse and rape, break-in and entry and stealing is increasing. Health problems too is on the rise with diabetes being one of our biggest threats – to individuals and high costs to the government. And as to the morality of this Christian Nation, isn’t having more than one spouse a direct mockery of being a Christian? Isn’t nepotism and corruption a huge contributing factor to the downfall of this nation? These are only some of the many problems we are facing in this country – yes, our society is decaying, but should we say it is the fault of Facebook? Really? Can we have supported evidence backing this assertion about the potential threats by Facebook to our public security, public safety, public morality and our decaying society?
Furthermore, the Minister’s argument that Facebook brings prejudice and discrimination in our society since some people use foul language to rubbish other ethnicity or swear to people should not be blamed on all Facebook users. Only one or few people use Facebook to incite hatred among other cultural groups or abusing others with obscene languages. The majority users of Facebook are using it for what this platform was created for – stay connected with friends and families, find communities and grow businesses. It has become an important platform in Solomon Islands where citizens are using this to discuss constructively on national issues, networking for business purposes and most importantly communicate with families. To make a sweeping statement, by blaming every Facebook users for the irresponsible act of few people is the least we expect from a leader elected to the highest office of this nation.
Transparency Solomon Islands appealed to the executive government to stop pursuing the proposal to suspend Facebook but rather work on a legislation to regulate this. Solomon Islands can no longer remain in our own cocoon and maintain the same mode of communication, this is an evolving world and it is time that our Legislators create legislations to regulate the use of social media. Facebook is not the only platform and it is time that Solomon Islands have laws in place in anticipation of this changing world of technology. To have Facebook remaining accessible would be the best approach government need to consider given past turmoil experienced in this country. TSI supports the move to review the Telecommunication Act and create a legislation to regulate the use of social media but not the proposal to temporary suspend Facebook.
Transparency Solomon Islands appealed to the executive government to stop pursuing the proposal to suspend Facebook but rather work on a legislation to regulate the social media, instead of shutting it down. Solomon Islands can no longer remain in our own cocoon and maintain the same mode of communication, this is an evolving world and it is time that our Legislators create legislations to regulate the use of social media. Facebook is not the only platform and it is time that Solomon Islands have laws in place in anticipation of this changing world of technology. To have Facebook remaining accessible would be the best approach government need to consider given past turmoil experienced in this country. TSI supports the move to review the Telecommunication Act and create a legislation to regulate the use of social media but not the proposal to temporary suspend Facebook.