Some of us have encountered situation of which we posted something on Facebook and was told to take it down, because of the controversial massage it sends out to the public. Alternatively, because we said something that sparks debate or because our opinion is not quite fits in with the tradition of what is said to be the “online respect”.
Yet in the Solomon Islands, we do not have the written legislation to state the policies of what is allowed to be posted or shared on the Facebook and what is not. In result, there are cases where citizens have faced with consequences because of the dubiousness. Like the case on the termination of a prominent clinician in April 2020, by the Solomon Islands Government due to his counter opinion post on Facebook that was said to be against the laws.
On the 17th of November 2020, it was reported that the Solomon Islands’ Cabinet agreed to ban Facebook in the country. Due to the need for proper regulation on Facebook to safeguard young people from harmful content, as at the moment there is no legislation to govern the use of the internet.
Though yet to come into effect, the counter to this is the public outcry on the negative economic, educational and social impact that Facebook ban will have on the citizens. More importantly will be the loss of small businesses and the impact it will cause for the number of young people who are currently using Facebook for entrepreneurship.
By drawing light to these issues, sparks the question of how powerful these online tools can be, and gives the insight to the possibility of them being enhanced to support constructive contribution.
The use of social media for news, marketing and leisure have been common in the country and gradually known for the effective role that it can play on the purpose of constructive advocacy and social engagement.
Over the last decade, the use of internet in the Solomon Islands has increased cumulatively as the two internet provider; Degicel and Telekom continue to expand the bandwidth coverage from the capital city in Honiara to the nine provinces.
The annual internet user growth in the Solomon Islands is at +11%. The current 147.5 thousand internet users as of January 2020 indicates that 22% of the total population are active internet users. Out of the 22% active internet users, 97.0 thousand are on social media with 73.13% in itself are Facebook users.
Facebook - 73.13%
Pinterest - 19.26%
Twitter - 3.88%
Youtube - 2.74%
Reddit - 0.2%
LinkedIn - 0.2%
social media users in the Solomon Islands
Source: Global Stats 2020
Constructive advocacy and social engagement
Employing a discourse analysis, this article explores the opportunities of Facebook as a tool for social advocacy as well as to promote civic engagement and awareness amongst people in the Solomon Islands.
To build on these opportunities, the awareness on the challenges of social media in advocacy and social engagement is important. In addition to that, it is helpful to understand the processes and function of the Facebook infrastructures in order to further support the desired development and progress.
The Facebook platform provides a low cost, fast and easy to use tool that can effectively disseminate information. Utilized by the groups, government and non-governmental organisation to update the public and their followers on the work, results of their activities, and has been a highly effective method to rally support and establish important cause.
The country’s news outlets are also using the social media tool for its effectiveness and accessibility and users have been individually contributing to sharing ideas which then resulting in the amplifying of the voices of the previously unheard.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, the government have been using the Government Press Facebook page to deliver statements to the public. Many might simper on the efficiency of social media due to limited coverage at the rural area, but it is evident that the trend has shown the increase usage of internet in the rural communities at places that have internet coverage.
Online advocacy plays an important role in social movements through hashtag, sharing, commenting, and discussions in chat groups. An online community can be built with little as just a click from a device and youths in the Solomon Islands too have utilized it.
In the Solomon Islands, young people have been leading the mass through creating Facebook pages and groups. Facebook youth groups have positively influence communities and young people make use of the platforms to raise important issues. These issues are of which that are not able to be raised through responsible authorities because of the lack of knowledge or inactive structures to represent and present them. Therefore, such online participation shows a strong indication of representative that concretizes whatever young people put forward as advocacy.
Today, it is vital to acknowledge that virtual advocacy will transform the traditional way of campaign in the near future. Internet offers an online platform for education, awareness, access to massive online resources and more. Online platform can provide better representation for meetings and workshops than a physical attendance. Online advocacy to advance good cause, like the participation of the youths from the Solomon Islands to dialogue on the issue of Facebook ban in the country. Youths, whether they are in the different provinces or overseas, they can still participate and have their voices heard through the virtual interactions.
How do we mediate social media for better cause?
By having, regulations and legislations in place can expand the virtual connectedness in a salient way that is protected but flexible enough to for users to innovate and make the highest use of opportunities it presents. Public attention is the key prerequisite for social change and effective measure of social change, when it comes to the impact social media can drive as a low cost interactive tool. National Laws to guide the conversation, as simples as direct all Facebook page group admin to set in terms and conditions for their users. Registration of sim-cards and proper oversight to the internet provider in the country.
Future use and purpose
The growing trend of internet and social media use coupled with mass shift from the face-to-face to a digital space, calls for an online regulatory to the use of online platforms to support a good cause. Guidelines and policy needs to be made to ensure that the public feedback are constructive, not just complains, and rants.
Government and public users need to acknowledge the tool and look at it as a communication channel that mediate between public views to the government and vice versa. More concern should be on how can issue be liberated with regard to Facebook use in the country and how can we improve from where we are now in terms of the current use of constructive advocacy and civic engagement to an advance social and economic development for the Solomon Islands.