Nauru shows us the powerful face of Facebook

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Claims by the Nauru Government that social media has the power to create unrest in the Pacific nation of Nauru, has President Baron Waqa defending the decision to ban Facebook on the island.

Accusations from refugee advocates continue, stating the Facebook ban was initiated by the Australian Government.

Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program that she has been informed that the ban is actually to restrict communication to refugees involved in the Cambodian resettlement project.

President Waga remains on record stating that the decision is an attempt to block pornography, citing child pornography as something that needs to be addressed due to religious considerations.

ABC News Online reported that Mr Waqa was among the heads of government and other leaders attending the 71st Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the regional development arm of the United Nations.

In a keynote speech to the commission meeting in Bangkok, Mr Waqa said the effects of social media were “very powerful”.

Irrespective of Mr Waga’s actual motivations to ban Facebook on Nauru, the move is consistent with academic modelling of the power of social media as a vehicle for not only communication, but citizen mobility.

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Photo credit : https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=free%20speech

Academic Lucia Vesnic-Alujevic has highlighted Facebook’s role in a changing discourse of political participation in Europe, but the key findings are equally as pertinent to any country with internet access. (Vesnic-Alujevic, 2012: 466-470)

“Internet is often seen as a new discursive space, which could lead to more inclusion and participation in the public debate for all citizens and not only political elites as it had previously been the case”. (Vesnic-Alujevic. 2012: 466–470)

Whilst most of the research regarding social media is conducted in Western nations, studies from Arab nations give us clues to how Facebook is utilized when social expression is a political premium.

Academics Ali Al-Kandari and Mohammed Hasanen’s recent study showed:

“A new age of political transformation has arrived. While a liberal political atmosphere allows Westerners to be interested in blogs and to reflect their personal daily experiences, conservative and oppressive political contexts force Arabs to use social media for political purposes”. (Al-Kandari & Hasanen. 2012: 245-253)

Public relations professionals in Western countries are still modelling the most effective way of adopting and maximising Facebook as a communicative tool.

To engage with stakeholders for business purposes or communicate with their audience as citizens for public announcements, public relations professionals are often faced with a wide range of portfolios, some with serious political implications inherent in their brief.

Online stakeholders take varied forms dependent on their political conditions world wide.

The role of a public relations professional may have to navigate political sensitivities depending on their cultural, national or religious codes.

Nauru’s recent ban on social media is a pertinent reminder that Facebook is a shape-shifting medium that is only as free as it’s stakeholders – and yet it’s effectiveness is large enough to have governments worried.

Public relation professionals world wide have a powerful tool to communicate with.

REFERENCES:

Hasanen, M., & Al-Kandari, A., (2012), “The impact of the internet on political attitudes in Kuwait & Egypt”, Telmatics and Informatics, Volume 29, Issue 3, August 2012, Pages 245–253

Raines, S., (2015) “Nauru Facebook ban came at ‘request of the Australian Government’ refugee advocates say”, ABC online http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-05/refugee-advocates-claim-nauru-facebook-ban-requested-australia/6444506

“Nauru’s president defends Facebook ban, says social media has the ‘power to create instability'” (2015), ABC online http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-29/nauru-president-baron-waqa-defends-facebook-ban/6507240

Vesnic-Alujevic, A.,(2012), “Political participation and Web: 2.0 in Europe: A case study of Facebook”, Public Relations Review, Volume 38, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 466–470

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