News has emerged that the government of the Solomon Islands is preparing to ban Facebook, fueling concerns that the country is already falling victim to negative influence from the Chinese Communist Party.
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In comments made to the Solomon Times newspaper, Communication and Civil Aviation Minister, Peter Agovaka, claimed that the country needs a Facebook ban to protect children and to prevent abusive language, character assassination, and defamation occurring on the platform. For citizens, the potential ramifications of the decision could be severe.
Last year, the Solomon Islands descended into riots following the re-election of Sogavare as Prime Minister for the fourth time. Following those results, citizens took to the streets to express contempt for political corruption that has become endemic in the country.
Time and time again in recent years, the internet has become a primary vehicle for disseminating anti-government sentiment. Social media platforms like Facebook have proven instrumental in allowing citizens to express and promulgate dissenting opinions – as well as to organize protests.
As has been the case elsewhere, the Solomon Islands’ government is aware of Facebook’s potential to accelerate political dissent and protests. As a result, the platform is now firmly in the government’s crosshairs.
Since his re-election as Prime Minister, Sogavare’s government has chosen to end the Solomon Islands’ long-standing ties with Taiwan – in favor of a new relationship with China. Since that decision was announced, it has led to enormous amounts of upheaval for citizens.
Students were forced to leave prestigious Taiwanese universities where they enjoyed scholarships – almost overnight. And, for islanders accustomed to trading with farms and markets in Taiwan, the concept of transferring allegiances over to China is seen as incompatible with their everyday needs and habits.
With life-changing adjustments already causing fear, stress, and contempt, it is unsurprising that anti-China rhetoric is on the rise. Now, a ban on Facebook seems likely to inflame the already tempestuous situation. As a result, it is feared that the ban could foment levels of unrest not seen since the riots of 2006 – when fears about Chinese influence and corruption caused rioters to set Chinatown in Honiara ablaze.
To prevent this kind of hostility from occurring, the government wants to crack down on people’s ability to communicate.
And, despite its claims to the contrary, the decision to ban Facebook is almost certainly a result of growing Chinese influence in the country.
For Sogavare, it is now imperative to appease the Communist Party and its desires. This is tricky because China is known to emphatically oppose any criticism of its government and policies. As a result, Sogavare must be seen to toe the line if he wants to enjoy the benefits promised by the new alliance.
Only by complying with China’s will, can the Solomon Islands benefit from the agreements made with Beijing – which include China building a multi-million dollar stadium in the country, and Chinese companies taking on infrastructure contracts designed to lease new life into the nation’s gold mining operations.
The problem for the citizens of the Solomon Islands is that Facebook isn’t just used to disseminate anti-government rhetoric. It is also the dominant form of communication for tens of thousands of islanders stretched across the archipelago. Taking away this vital form of communication will result in a massive blow to people’s civil rights.
Solomon Islander’s concerns that its government is powerless to compete against China’s desires are clearly justified, and a ban on Facebook can only reinforce these opinions and fan the flames of dissent.
As a result, a ban on Facebook is likely to lead to further escalation and potentially stronger governmental crackdowns in response. This will lead to a deterioration of peace in the region, and potentially serious political and humanitarian concerns should China become actively involved in propping up Sogavare’s regime for its own interests.