18 Apr 2012

Pacific leaders advised to opt for social media

5:55 pm on 18 April 2012

Pacific leaders are being warned they need to adapt to social media, or be left out of political conversation.

A new report by the Pacific Institute of Public Policy says the number of people using social media, like Twitter and Facebook is growing rapidly, though the region's leaders are notably absent.

Megan Whelan has this report.


"Was watching the news this evening and heard the PM mention that Police had to remember the oath they swore. Got me wondering if our parliamentarians swear oaths of office.....Hello His Excellency Governor General Sir Michael Ogio, you there? Why have you been so mum? Could you dissolve the parliament and we go for elections now? ...I think Arthur Somare should just shut up and concentrate on his next moves to return in the coming elections than talking about money spent .... He is no different from them!"

Comments left on the PNG Sharp Talk group on Facebook, which now boasts almost 5000 users.

One of its members is a blogger, who doesn't want to be named, but uses the pseudonym Tavurvur online.

He says social media is filling a void left by traditional media in PNG.

Because PNG is quite limited in terms of, particularly media information, relayed in a timely and efficient manner, the use of social media has effectively filled that void, where we are now seeing lots of examples of social media, Twitter, Facebook, SMS texting via mobile phone, that are actually winning the war on reporting what's happening on the ground.

Data on internet usage in the region is hard to come by, but PNG alone has nearly 90-thousand Facebook users, with a growth rate of 30 percent over the past six months.

The Pacific Institute of Public Policy says most people are now using handheld devices, and political discussion is growing, especially in PNG, Fiji and Vanuatu.

The report says leaders need to start thinking about embracing the technology to at least be part of the conversation.

Fiji's regime has its own blog, and leaders, including Commodore Frank Bainimarama and the attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum are on Twitter.

The institute's Derek Brien says Fiji has stood out in engaging with social media.

That generally was seen to come out of the bloggers that were mainly anti-military government, many of which we based overseas. The Fiji government I suppose took a slightly different tack than some may have thought which was trying to shut everything down in the country, reacted by actually getting into the conversation and joining it.

Anther blogger, the Australia-based Keith Jackson, says social media brings a range of views that otherwise might not be heard.

He says his blog, PNG Attitude, has doubled its readers in the past 12 months.

As the political temperature rises, towards and during the Papua New Guinea elections, people are going to be seeking out information even more vigorously than they usually do, and that puts quite a lot of responsibility back onto the editors and writers in the social media to try to ensure their information is of good quality.

In Papua New Guinea, the Government tried to crack down on what it called subversive activity on the internet.

But the Institute's Derek Brien says as the technology gets better, and access to the internet gets easier, and social networking will only grow.

He says in the region, social media mirrors the way traditional social networks have worked.

But Mr Brien says, the region isn't on the verge of a so-called Pacific Spring, like last year's revolutions in the Middle East.

While we're seeing this explosion of political discourse online in places like Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu and elsewhere in the Pacific, I don't think we're yet at the stage of unified movements or voices.

But Blogger Tavurvur says people are using Twitter and Facebook to organise events, like the thousands who attended a rally in Port Moresby last week.

Primarily because of the constitutional crisis, we see in PNG, and the ongoing political impasse, we've seen a lot of political outcomes of using social media technology. But there's no stopping that, I think this is only the beginning, and uses of social media technology will only increase over time.

The blogger says he believes this is a defining moment in terms of how PNG people express themselves.