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Social experiment or crude censorship? Papua New Guinea wants to block Facebook

An initially lapidary sounding “experiment” of the island state Papua New Guinea directs the focus to a related question of state censorship and the available possibilities.

The island state of Papua New Guinea, located in the Pacific Ocean, wants to block the social network Facebook for a month. This is not – as one might suspect – a punitive measure for breaches of data protection regulations or a comparable action. Rather, the government – according to the official version – wants to find out in a scientific analysis what influence Facebook has on society. The experiment raises questions.

In concrete terms, the governments’ plans to date include identifying users who – possibly with fake identities – distribute “fake news” or pornographic content via Facebook and thus violate applicable laws.

This will allow sincere people with real identities to use the social network responsibly

The island state has a cyber crime law for about two years, which legitimizes this unusual step, according to communication minister Sam Basil. It remains to be seen to what extent the state will actually be able to derive findings from the experiment: The third-largest island state in the world in terms of area has only about 8 million inhabitants, only a fraction of whom have Internet access.

Is Facebook “press”?

Papua New Guinea ranks 51st out of 180 countries in the “Reporters Without Borders” 2017 press freedom ranking. Recently, however, there have been indications that the comparatively independent press is under pressure. Investigative journalists are said to have been massively threatened during investigations into corruption cases, and reporting on escalating demonstrations was allegedly hampered. Critical reporting that threatens the state’s monopoly on the use of force and the interests of the political and economic elite is said to threaten reprisals.

Such radical measures, with which a state intervenes in the communication of its citizens under the pretext of social responsibility, can be viewed with scepticism against this background. Ultimately, such steps are always under the suspicion that, for example, people who may be a thorn in the side of the state are attacked as “welcome collateral damage”.

At the same time, the plans show once again how easy it is for a government to erect a digital wall with the existing technical possibilities. You don’t have to travel to the other side of the globe for similar cases: The network barriers that Turkey, for example, erected will probably still be remembered by many. In the case of our Austrian neighbours, too, such plans are currently on the table in a completely different context, there within the framework of the controversial Money Gaming Act. And in Germany? The so-called Network Enforcement Act and filer lists for routers are still causing discussions.

About Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is the third largest island state in the world after Indonesia and Madagascar. It lies in the Pacific Ocean, is part of the Australian continent and includes the eastern part of New Guinea (the western part, West Papua, belongs to Indonesia) as well as several offshore islands and island groups. New Guinea itself is the second largest island in the world and is widely surrounded by numerous archipelagos that can be geographically divided into four main groups.

The island state lies on the eastern half of New Guinea. The country has a total area of 462,840 km² and a total coastline of 5,152 km. This area is about 1.3 times the size of Germany. Papua New Guinea is the largest country in Oceania and the 55th largest country in the world.

The archipelago consists of around 1,400 smaller and partly uninhabited islands. Indonesia is the only directly bordering neighbouring country of Papua New Guinea. The distance between Berlin and the capital Port Moresby is about 13,700 km.

In Papua New Guinea, as in all equatorial countries, there is a tropical climate. There is no difference between the seasons as here in Central Europe. The length of the day hardly fluctuates and the temperature differences between summer and winter are also smaller. The average daily maximum temperatures are between 29 and 31 degrees, depending on the season. In some parts of the country, temperatures can reach 34 degrees during the day. In the colder months, the temperature drops to an average of 21°C at night, depending on the region.

While in neighbouring northern Australia it is usually hotter, but drier, there is often a tropical high humidity at the coasts of New Guinea. At some coasts the humidity is extremely high. The trade winds and monsoon winds that are guided by the mountains regularly bring tropical rain showers to the whole country. In the highlands there can be frost at night, while on the coasts it is warm all year round day and night around 30 degrees.

Catholics (Roman Catholic) 22%, Lutheran 16%, Presbyterian/Methodists/London Missionary Society 8%, Anglicans 5%, Evangelical Alliance 4%, Seventh-Day Adventist 1%, Other Protestants 10%, Indigenous Religions 34%.