SOCIAL MEDIA DESK TO COUNTERACT GOVERNMENT DISINFORMATION

Media Release – 17th June 2021

Easy access to the Internet and mobile phone technology across Papua New Guinea means that individuals with untrained minds are flooded with information daily and up to a point where they are struggling to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.

As an information source, the government is also competing with untrustworthy sources daily to put confirmed government information out to citizens through social media platforms. This is a phenomenon referred to as ‘disinformation’.
Although disinformation is the more common term to refer to false, harmful and misleading content in media and information ecosystems, the debate on this issue revolves around three main concepts to capture the distinctions underlying it:

• Misinformation when false information is shared, but no harm is meant;
• Disinformation when false information is knowingly shared to cause harm, and;
• Malinformation when genuine information is shared to cause harm, often by moving what was designed to stay private into the public sphere.
In a bid to manage government misinformation, disinformation and misinformation, the Marape-Basil Government has stepped up its efforts.
Announcing the Government’s counteractive initiatives, Minister for Information and Communications Technology Timothy Masiu, MP today said that the Department of Information and Communication Technology has been directed and is now the host of a social media management desk on behalf of the whole-of-government to:
• establish a clearance process, a standards and registry process and ensure compliance for all official Government operated social media pages/channels; and
• report and take-down fake social media pages promoting Government Agencies and Members of Parliament;
• facilitate steps necessary to take-down social media pages and groups purporting to report and inform on official news;
• maintain co-administrator roles on all official Government social media pages; and
• liaise directly with the appointed contact person with all the various Social Media companies.
Minister Masiu said that the social media population in Papua New Guinea grew between 2020 and 2021 by 170,000 users or 22 percent. In January 2021, there were 930,000 social media users in Papua New Guinea and this was equivalent to 10.3 percent of the total population.”

“As of March 2021, Facebook was the popular social media platform for users in Papua New Guinea as it led the social media statistics in Papua New Guinea at 67.07 percent, followed by Twitter (21.32 percent); Pinterest (8.19 percent); YouTube (2.1 percent); LinkedIn (0.71 percent), and; Instagram (0.32 percent).”
He said that there were 1,009,300 Facebook users in Papua New Guinea in March 2021, which accounted for 11.3 percent of the entire population. The majority (60 percent) of Facebook users in March 2021 were men, and people aged 18 to 24 were the largest user group comprising 370,000 persons.“

As hundreds of thousands of Papua New Guinea users on Facebook try to hold the government to account, it is vital that proper channels of information-sharing on social media are established to ensure that accurate and updated information is disseminated by the government to these Facebook users and the general public to serve the purpose of educating and informing our people on key development initiatives.”

Minister Masiu said that accurate and updated information allows our citizens to understand the development initiatives and to be able to participate in policy debate and consultations without engaging in unlawful disinformation, misinformation and mal-information. The social media management desk will be the government’s mechanism to host and channel government public communication efforts and mechanism to counter unlawful disinformation, misinformation and mal-information activities.“

I know that the Department of Information and Communication Technology has had an informal working relationship with Facebook since 2020 and through this engagement, a number of fake social media pages promoting Government of Papua New Guinea agencies and Members of the Papua New Guinea Parliament were successfully taken down as a result of complaints processed through Facebook’s existing complaint mechanisms.”

He said that the government through the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology has urged Facebook and will keep on advocating that Facebook treats government complaints differently due to sovereignty issues.“
As a government, we would like to work with social media companies such as Facebook to ensure that social media platforms do not become fora for disinformation to flourish unlawfully.”

Minister Masiu said that the government may even look at policy and regulations down the line to ensure that the government is able to directly regulate social media platforms and social media companies out of safeguarding constitutional purposes such as national interest and national security.“
We have a constitutional responsibility to safeguard our government and citizens and the rule of law and we will not hesitate to regulate unlawful disinformation if need be.”
He said that there is a likelihood that serving public servants are spreading government disinformation. To this end, a general order regulating social media conduct by public servants will be in place by 2022.“
Our constitutional democracy has a space and provision for whistle blowers everywhere including within the public service. But there is no place for disinformation unlawfully obtained and spread by serving public servants.”

Minister Masiu said that to manage disinformation originating from the public service, the National Executive Council has already directed the departmental head responsible for public servants to develop and issue a general order regulating social media conduct by public servants, by virtue of the powers conferred by Section 70 of the Public Services (Management) Act 1995, for implementation as of 1 January 2022.

Authorized for release by
HON. TIMOTHY MASIU, MP
Minister for Information & Communication Technology