Facebook is popular throughout the archipelago and is used as the primary medium of communication daily by tens of thousands of islanders.
The government itself also uses Facebook extensively to disseminate information, particularly on public health during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister’s national speeches are also posted on Facebook.
But the government’s justification for the ban is that Facebook leads to a deterioration in civic behavior: the platform is used to abuse political leaders or to access harmful or dangerous content.
“Abusive language against the minister, the prime minister, character assassination, defamation… these are all matters of concern,” Agovaka told the Solomon Times newspaper.
“Right now, Internet use in Solomon Islands needs to be properly regulated to protect our young people from harmful content… even young children can download harmful content from the Internet.”
Agovaka argued that the ban was not an attack on freedom of expression, claiming that press freedom remained protected by law.
Facebook was also cited as a factor in the riots that hit the capital, Honiara, in 2019. The social media platform was lit with anti-government rhetoric in the days following Sogavare’s election and was used by rioters to organize and assemble.
But observers say China influenced the government’s decision. Facebook has been, at least officially, banned in China for over a decade.
In September 2019, the Solomon Islands moved from recognition of Taiwan to diplomatic relations with Beijing. The Solomons are home to a large Chinese population, and Beijing’s influence in the Melanesian archipelago – with the exception of Malaita, the most populous island and which remains loyal to Taiwan – has grown steadily.
Opposition MP and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Peter Kenilorea Jr said the Facebook ban was a “direct and brazen attack on free speech” guaranteed by the Solomons constitution.
“Reports of a ban or suspension of FB are of serious concern to Solomon Islands, a democratic country. Cabinet is now strangling the right it should be defending. This decision must be condemned by all freedom-loving Solomon Islanders.
Kenilorea said the proposed ban was an attempt by the government to shield itself from criticism and liability. “As leaders, we must be held accountable by the electorate who places us in positions of power. We have to face the music from time to time. It’s democracy. ”
Facebook has been contacted for comment.