A tiny Pacific island nation relatively geographically close to Australia and New Zealand, but firmly in their sphere of political influence, seems to be channeling its big and influential neighbors’ behavior by going after internet freedoms.
Blocking entire websites is not unheard of in the two wealthy regional powers, and now the rulers of Tonga, a monarchy with reportedly questionable democracy standards, are said to be mulling blocking Facebook.
According to the New Zealand Herald this would be their rather heavy-handed way of dealing with anti-government sentiments citizens have been expressing on the global social media platform.
And although the immediate reason to consider blocking Facebook have been salacious rumors involving King Tupou and the members of his family – the report suggests that deeper reasons are fueling the issue from both sides.
Many people are unhappy with the political system and a lack of movement on the democratization front – while the government and the royals look for ways to undermine free speech, including online, as a way to control the population, the report suggests.
But are Australia and New Zealand – who, according to the article, very much have their hand in Tonga’s internal affairs by propping up its monarchy and influencing its politics, security, and society – reacting to the news of these possible democracy-undermining developments?
They’re not, the report writes. “Neither Wellington nor Canberra have made any statement opposing a ban on Facebook, which is used by tens of thousands of Tongans to share news and communicate with each other.”
That’s not surprising – when the situation got dire in 2006 during anti-government protests in Tonga, Australia, and New Zealand “dispatched soldiers to restore ‘order’ and protect business interests.”
Nowadays, another reason why these countries might turn a blind eye in case the Tongan authorities decide to silence online critics in the impoverished nation, struggling with poverty and a drug epidemic, is to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
It would present an extraordinary case of double standards and hypocrisy if Australia and New Zealand were to sit back as Tonga blocks Facebook – while routinely criticizing China for the very same brand of censorship.
On the other hand, one never knows – Facebook itself could “solve” the problem by doing what it has done before – act on behalf of power centers and fight “fake news” by preventing inconvenient truths from being disseminated on its platform.