By Engr. Ray Adrian C. Macalalag
The night of September 28, 2020 in the Philippines could be the start of the end.
After the social media giant of 2.70 billion average users Facebook shut down several allegedly fake accounts run by the Philippine police and military, the country’s chief executive finds it no longer useful in the government’s campaigns and advocacies. Ultimately, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte threatens to stop Facebook once and for all in the archipelago.
While issues are still fresh and questions as to whether this can be possible are flowing all over social media, here is a list of some countries where Facebook is banned. We will try to find out the reasons behind such shutdowns and how these grounds could apply in the local context.
PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
Would you imagine that the social media giant was shut down in China for almost ten years already? This was primarily triggered during the 2009 Urumqi Riots after activists campaigning for the independence of Xinjiang Province utilized Facebook for communication purposes. While it is still free to use the said social media platform in China’s Special Administrative Regions like Hong Kong and Macau, Facebook is currently working on a censorship project for the red giant, where a third party would be allowed to regulate the platform and of course, control popular stories that come around. Considering the big number of social media users, courting the country that could generate income would seem a very good idea at the cost of censorship.
Fear of the opposition mainly triggered the ban of Facebook in Iran. After its national election in 2009 swirled up by pre-election violence, communications blocking, alleged vote-rigging and coup attempt, it was imperative for the government to close the red curtains for the social media platform. The Iranian government suspected that scheduled protests especially opposition movements were organized on the website.
While both countries mentioned have quite some downtime for Facebook, the social media giant has managed to become close friends with Israel. As the social network was availed freely by its citizens, the freedom became translucent in 2016 when its government worked with Facebook to remove content deemed as incitement. Following this, the country became known to have the most openly cooperative relationship with the platform as its judiciary boasted that it removed most of the latter’s requested content. It came to a point that Facebook and Israel would sit down together to determine which accounts stay and which ones are removed due to incitement.
Come elections in 2018, thousands were banned from Facebook which made critics unhappy as they claim that the privilege was used as a way to block Palestinian civilians, activists, and journalists. They argue that once posts relate to disputes, Israel tags it as encouraging violence.
It is also believed that there is much influence by the government to Facebook given that a former Israeli government worker is Facebook’s head of policy in Israel. This, however, dispelled claims when the said Facebook executive clarified that they do receive requests from the government but are not bound to implement them.
Yes, there is Facebook to entertain the most entitled citizens of this closed country. This, however, came to a close in 2016 when the North Korean government began to crack down the social media platform due to concerns about spreading online information. While this country is being secretive of its whereabouts with the world, it cannot simply let its elite spread what is really going on in their land. The North Korean government, though, still offers loose privileges to those who have special permissions. Generally, without permission, it can mean jail time for who knows how long and how many generations.
COULD THE PHILIPPINES BE NEXT?
We cannot simply find the reason why the Philippines could not be next. Taking into account that there are several precedences, our clock is ticking while the government finds the right channels to do so.
Without Facebook in the Philippines, the platform also needs to consider what happens to it while it loses nearly 75 million active users. It is also worth mentioning that Facebook has a 92.7 percent market share in the social media market in the country. This may also translate to economic losses for those who have their income based on Facebook coming from direct and indirect online selling as well as other informal and unconfirmed means by posting, sharing and liking of various content.
IT CAN BE A LONG WAY
For the four countries which were discussed, a much common denominator is an external force that propagates activism in various proportions which may come in the forms of chat messages, links to other websites, and possibly even fake news which the platform has been very active in cracking down. It can be deemed that the government has not violated any Facebook policy to which the latter has confidence in the legitimacy of the former’s requests.
Ironically, Facebook removed fake accounts linked to the police and military for violating its policy against foreign or government interference which defines it as “coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity”. The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab pointed out posts as early as 2015 which included “red-tagging” of the critics of the current administration. Its active practice of branding political opponents as terrorists and communists in social media will come as the government’s Achilles heel. With that level of being inauthentic, who would Facebook believe? Either way, the government may choose to block it once and for all. But this decision is very critical not only for those who are against this move but also to those who have been dependent on this social media platform in one way or another, including the government itself.
The author is a Filipino licensed civil engineer who specializes in highway safety and planning. He worked for the Department of Public Works and Highways before moving to National Economic and Development Authority as a senior policy and planning specialist. Follow him at https://ilonggoengineer.com