Papua don’t preach: South Pacific nation will block citizens from Facebook for a month to stop fake news

In an effort to clean up fake accounts and objectionable content, the nation of Papua New Guinea has announced plans to block its citizens from accessing Facebook for one month.

The unique and aggressive approach to combat fake news on social media was announced this week by the country’s Communications and Information Technology department, according to the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. No date has been set for the shutdown, but Communications Minister Sam Basil said the country plans to use the downtime to research how Facebook is being used by its citizens.

In particular, Basil said officials are targeting “users that hide behind fake accounts,” with the goal of enabling “real identities” to use Facebook “responsibly.” Other irresponsible content Papua New Guinea is targeting includes pornography and “misleading information.”

It isn’t clear how the country plans to enforce this, but the country could take a hint from Germany, which already has dedicated teams that review content and remove objectionable material. However, that review process is managed by Facebook, which contracts it out to a third party, while Papua New Guinea’s plans call for direct government intervention.

Facebook, for its part, offered no additional insight on how the government would review or filter content to its platform.

“We have reached out to the government to understand their concerns,” the social media giant said in a statement to The Washington Post.

OWI Insight: As countries around the world struggle with how to stop misinformation and offensive content on social media platforms, Papua New Guinea’s approach comes across as heavy-handed. Blocking citizens from Facebook for a month could, frankly, backfire and only generate more interest in the platform. Current estimates say that about 650,000 out of the nation’s 8 million people have Facebook. It will be interesting to see whether that number grows or shrinks after the ban on the service has concluded. Similar efforts to censor content in the nation’s neighbor to the north, China, have led citizens to use VPNs to access basic sites like Gmail and Facebook.