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Papua New Guinea

Violence and fake social media mars PNG elections

Violence linked to the upcoming election continues in Papua New Guinea, while a recent incident where oil was deliberately spilled on a runway has been called an act of terrorism by PNG police.

There seems to be no end to the violence which the PNG Police and Defence Forces are failing to contain.

Much of it is to do with misinformation, according to a study on Facebook activity by PNG politicians undertaken by the DT Institute.

On Tuesday, all flights into Mt Hagen Kagamuga Airport in Western Highlands were suspended by the National Airports Corporation (NAC) due to the oil incident. The flights resumed from Thursday morning.

NAC managing director Rex Kiponge said it was a deliberate act.

He called on local leaders in Hagen to surrender the perpetrators, otherwise the airport will continue to be closed.

Kagamuga is a busy airport and important for trade in the province.

Violence linked to the upcoming election continues in Papua New Guinea, while a recent incident where oil was deliberately spilled on a runaway has been called an act of terrorism by PNG police. Picture: John Stowles Twitter

Many believe that this action was a result of a disagreement on the appointment of a returning officer for the elections.

The province’s general election 2022 operations commander Superintendent John Sagom said it was an act of “terrorism” and promised to investigate the incident thoroughly and arrest those involved.

This was not an isolated incident – violence has been rife in PNG. In 2017 more than 200 people were killed as a result of election violence.

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On May 27 Eastern Province member of parliament Saki Soloma’s convoy was attacked and torched at Okapa Station in the Eastern Province, while two days later Southern Highlands candidate Philemon Embel narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.

A week ago a returning officer for the Kompiam-Ambum open seat was shot and hospitalised and on June 6, the oil was spilt on the Kagamuga Airport runaway.

The study

The study to show how Facebook influences people in PNG during elections was called ‘Characterising pre-election Facebook activity of Papua New Guinean politicians’.

It was a joint research effort in the run-up to the 2022 elections in PNG. DT Institute and DT Global completed an exploratory research project to describe how Papua New Guinean political candidates and their connected constituents used Facebook between January 1 and March 30, 2022, and how this might impact the conduct or results of the 2022 elections.

Nine high profile politicians were selected for the study including Prime Minister James Marape, former PM Peter O’Neill along with Belden Namah, Bryan Kramer, Joseph Lelang, Powes Parkop, John Rosso, Ginson Saonu, and Joe Sungi.

MP Saki Soloma (green shirt) was attacked and his convoy torched in his province on May 26. Picture: Linda Rowlands Twitter

The study found that in most cases, fake profiles were made of the MPs either for scams or to generate misinformation.

The study found evidence of organised attempts to impersonate MPs and indications that some actors were politically motivated. It said inauthentic accounts were often not removed from the platform even when reported.

Facebook dominates the social media landscape in PNG. According to a 2021 survey by Datareportal, a remarkable 97 per cent of the approximately 930,000 mobile phone users in PNG — approximately one seventh of the total population — are active on Facebook.

ADF arrive in PNG

About 50 Australian Defence Force personnel arrived in Port Moresby on Tuesday afternoon to provide support for the elections.

A statement from the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby revealed that the ADF personnel are there at the request of the PNG government.

The ADF will be providing logistics and air mobility support to the elections under Operation Kimba.

Australian Army personnel arrive in Port Moresby. Picture: Australian High Commission PNG

The statement further revealed that this is part of the broader support provided by Australia towards the national elections.

Operation Kimba will see over 130 ADF personnel, two C-27J Spartan and a C-130J Hercules aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force working alongside the PNG Defence Force, to assist the PNG electoral commission to distribute electoral materials throughout the country.

An initial enabling contingent of Operation Kimba had arrived in the country last week.

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