TechInPacific – Tonga is now seriously considering a Facebook ban, as the Kingdom keeps on receiving online abuse and threats on the platform targeted exclusively to the monarchy by pro-government squads. This digital rivalry has been going on for several months, and opposes pro-democracy sides and pro-monarchy forces. It has now reached the point where it has become a national issue.
According to their beliefs, the constitutional monarchy supporters openly thinks that the King is entitled to certain key political assets. Yet, a whole new set of laws are now spotlighted in order to remove a major part in King’s powers and hand them to the government. This proposal induced agreement and disagreement which inevitably divided the people into two political mindsets. Both sides are continuously provoking each other, often with violent manners, in combative Facebook pages. Observers concluded that there are thousands and even more anonymous Facebook accounts, mobilized by both sides, to launch attacks on the oppositions and impose political messaging.
This month, the tension has clearly gone too far when multiple malicious threats were directed toward the King and his daughter. This led Police Minister Mateni Tapueluelu to inform the national broadcaster that he was mulling to block Facebook as an attempt to ease the conflict. This agenda is later confirmed by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, stating that the government had assembled a working group whose aim would be to find a solution within two weeks.
When fake identity is involved, that is where the complex problem occurs as there is no law to abide such phenomenon. “We can’t control the world of the demons,” said internet provider Tonga Cable director Paula Piukala in an interview. The state-owned company is part of the aforementioned multi-agency working group set up by the government.
The royal family has been criticized for a long a time, that’s why it’s not something unfamiliar in Tonga. In fact, it has happened for many years but the government decided to handle the situation in a confidential manner. However, a complex of adversity for the political environment has now been created thanks to the freedom of anonymity provided by Facebook.
In his interview with the Tonga Broadcasting Commission on August 7, Mr Tapueluelu stated that it was disappointing to see that Facebook was turning into a media to attack the King and royal family. Nevertheless, a shocking news was circulated online about his wife, who is the Prime Minister’s daughter. She was accused of being the proprietor of a popular pro-democracy page. Both Mr Tapueluelu and his wife have denied the accusation and the page has since been deactivated.
Kalafi Moala, a veteran Tongan journalist, claimed that the government was losing its online war against the monarchy and had moved to ban Facebook in a desperate attempt to salvage dignity. “It’s almost like a drowning man trying to reach out for whatever it is that they need to do to kind of save the day for them. If they banned Facebook, something very, very drastic is going to happen in this country,” Mr Moala continued, implying that protests would likely occur as the aftermath.
During January, a limitation of access to Facebook had been implemented in Tonga. The shocking event lasted for 12 days as a result from a cable break. Numerous businesses couldn’t manage to properly handle operations; and even citizens faced difficulties in communicating wither their relatives abroad. This highlights the fact that Facebook is an essential part of Tonga society and daily life, and the proposed Facebook ban was an overreaction. Jope Tarai, an academic who researches social media at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, said the ban will cause more harm. “It would be very heavy handed if the rest of the majority of active account users in Tonga would have to pay the price for a group that is been accused of being a fake Facebook group,” he said, in regards to the pro-democracy Facebook page which was shut down.
Tonga’s working group has prompted a solution by installing backdoors on local servers so the government can monitor accounts, said Tonga Cable’s Mr Piukala. The suggestion is unlikely to cause disadvantages to the social media giant, which already tightened their privacy measures in response to worldwide monitoring. “People will be free to write whatever they think and want, but be responsible,” Mr Piukala said.