MARTYN NAMORONG | Supported by the Chalapi Pomat Writing Fellowship
IT IS GENERALLY OBSERVED that Papua New Guinea’s internet discussion forums - like Sharp Talk on Facebook - are becoming lost in the ‘noise’ generated by their members, such that the outcomes of each discussion thread are difficult to define.
Sharp Talk and similar forums appeal to a certain demographic group - people in their late 20s and a bit onwards.
But what of the younger generation of PNG’s Facebook addicts? Many have turned to the ‘Confessions’ pages of Facebook.
Indeed such pages are the rage at the moment; with so many popping up to easily gather audiences.
One of the most popular in PNG is the NCD School Love Confessions Page where one can get into the minds of Port Moresby’s students as they discuss online their secret lives as well as take their school fights.
The most popular remain the news pages with The PNG news page being perhaps the most popular. News page was the first PNG Facebook group dedicated to providing news and has become one of the most trusted news sources.
Various other media organisations have set up news pages (the newspapers are notably absent). It’s worth noting that within a nation where information travels relatively slowly, old news is still big news.
The mobile phone has changed the news dynamic in PNG. Towards the end of last year, the biggest controversy involving Ok Tedi mine was sparked by a Fly River woman with a mobile phone.
The irony was that mobile phone coverage in Western Province was made possible by Ok Tedi’s major shareholder, the PNG Sustainable Development Program.
This story is similar to the events that led to the downfall of the Somare regime which was also linked to improved communications. It was during the Somare years that Papua New Guineans benefited from cheaper telecommunications due to the entry of Digicel.
But improved telecommunications also meant that rumours and bad news about the regime would spread like wildfire, especially during Somare’s protracted hospitalisation in Singapore.
Blogs continue to play a significant role in PNG, being perhaps the most influential form of media. PNG Exposed, PNG Mine Watch and PNG Blogs have the greatest influence on the national discourse.
Looking into 2013, Papua New Guinea’s tech-savvy urban youth will continue to feel ripped off by Digicel.
Internet is still expensive and many users are starting the switch to Bmobile, which also provides 3G coverage in some urban centres.
However availability of compatible handsets and limited coverage by Bmobile will prevent some from making the switch from Digicel.
2013 may also be a year where PNG based business advertising increases as witnessed by the number of new ads popping up on Facebook.
As more voices are added to an accelerating social network, noise begins to increase. The outcome is likely to be an increase in closed discussion groups where membership is limited to like-minded people.
So 2013 may see a more mature Facebook crowd, with like-minded people creating spaces that may bring change for good or for worse.
Problems are emerging from the abuse of social media. The amount of Papua New Guinean pornographic material featuring online is likely to increase. This raises privacy issues for many naïve individuals getting linked to the web for the first time.
The PNG telecommunications body NICTA (National Information and Communications Technology Authority) has developed policies and legislation to address cyber-crime and the Minister for Internal Security has suggested having all mobile phones properly registered as problems linked to phone use arise.
How the government balances the need to address the social and criminal issues arising from use of information technology whilst maintaining freedom of speech online will be closely watched by all stakeholders.
There is also a need for Freedom of Information legislation and protection of whistle-blowers.
Whilst information can be anonymously leaked online, it would be better for proper channels of communication to be created so that Papua New Guineans can have mature discussions about the issues that face the nation, its people and the environment.