FACEBOOK FREEDOM AND CENSORSHIP

by SAM KOIM

The recent announcement by the Government to regulate Facebook has stirred up a cacophony of views, mostly condemning the idea. Most people see it as a self-serving and arbitrary caveat on the peoples’ rights to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

In PNG, every person is entitled to the freedom of conscience and thought to think independently and subscribe to political views, as well as the right to freedom of expression and publication to express those views (see sections 45&46 of Constitution). Those are what the Constitution categorizes as “qualified rights” and a law can ‘regulate’, without necessarily ‘restricting’, the exercise of this category of rights. A law or action of government purporting to ‘restrict’ these rights may be deemed unconstitutional.

I don’t know just how Facebook will be regulated. I am not a tech savvy person, so I’ll leave this part of the debate to the government and its technocrats, and those in the know.

I will however touch on how a delicate balance is needed here.

In order for one to exercise these rights, another must bear the duty to respect its occurrence, for there will be no ‘freedom right’ if there is no reciprocal obligation by others to respect it. We will have anarchy and chaos in our society if we assert our rights only and fail our corresponding obligation to respect others’ rights and freedoms.

The bigger challenge facing our country with the advent of social media is the lack of responsibility by those who use these interactive platforms. Many feel that just because they freely access their phones and internet, so is the right to express whatever they want. On the contrary, the Right to Freedom of Expression is not the same as free access to internet. Right Freedoms come with responsibility.

Whilst we can say that criticisms come with the territory (of being in public office of a leader), we must also remind ourselves that they are there because some people trusted them before entrusting them with the power. To sow the seed of rejection and reduce that trust to a lesser worth, it must be substantiated with reason. It takes time for people to build up their reputations. Whether these persons are in government or opposition, bureaucracy or private sector, they all deserve, at the very least, some presumption of honesty, unless you have well founded reasons to think otherwise.

It is for these reasons that we have defamation laws. It is for this reason that journalists in the conventional media organizations are supervised by their editors to ensure that their articles are based on facts.

Hiding behind fake (alias) names and publishing unfounded and defamatory commentaries on social media is not constructive criticism. It is gossip, plain and simple! Gossip is you hiding your real identity from the person you’re tattling about. The defamation laws protect those who speak the truth or provide constructive criticisms to public office holders and their decisions or actions. There is protection for those who want to participate in public debates on social media. I use social media to discuss and provide critic all the time under my own name. What’s wrong with that?

I do not wish to speculate what the government contemplates to do with this proposed social media ban issue. I do not think having the entire Facebook shut down is a good idea. But I am hoping that they do something to get rid of Facebook accounts of aliases/fake names.

Objectively looking at this issue……just my thoughts…..

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