Sri Lankan gov’t holds Facebook responsible for inciting severe riots

China Global Television Network (CGTN) – The Sri Lankan government explained that its move to block social media site Facebook was necessary following the wave of violence that recently rocked the country’s Central Province, with the social media site being held responsible for spreading the trouble like wildfire.

Three people were killed in clashes when Sinhalese Buddhists, angered by the killing of a Buddhist driver by Muslims, attacked mosques and properties. The mobs had spread and encouraged the attacks through social media channels, prompting Sri Lankan to ban Facebook for over a week.

However, the ban was lifted on Thursday after Facebook officials traveled to Sri Lanka to meet with the country’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe.

Sri Lanka’s government believes that Facebook did not act quickly enough, and called for it to implement more drastic measures against the way hate speech spreads online.

The country’s telecommunications minister Harin Fernando said that Facebook’s live video feature puts places in danger and urged for such videos to be removed with immediacy so as to prevent trouble growing.

“In an incident like this, it has to be prompted, it has to be immediate that they bring it down at that moment. Let’s say you do a Facebook live video and they show [others to] come, we are attacking this place, right now, we are attacking it at six o’clock, then they say at five o’clock, gather up. If they don’t take the post down at that moment, it’s gone,” he said.

Speaking of the move to temporarily ban the social networking platform, Fernando said the problem had simply gotten out of control.

“We were in that kind of a situation, so we needed to block it out, and it is escalating day by day. And when you calm a situation down in one place, it starts in another place, because the Facebook was the one who was prompting them all up,” said the minister.

Troubles flared after mobs of hard-line Sinhalese Buddhists burned shops and houses owned by Muslims.

Many Facebook pages were banned including those belonging to Amith Weeransighe, who was identified as one of the instigators and arrested during the violence. He had posted a video of the rioting and asked his followers to head for Digana Village in Kandy, which has a majority Muslim population and saw some of the worst violence in the area.

But many will welcome to government’s reversal on the ban. Digital rights activist Milinda Rajapaksha, who is also a member of Sri Lanka People’s Youth front, were unhappy with the social media shutdown. He filed a litigation suit against the ban, saying the government needs to instead concentrate on providing security to its citizens.

“There is the time we really need social media back, to pass that (positive) message. The best example is within 48 hours, some of those mosques were built back, and some of those shops were built back within 48 hours with the support of Sinhalese people. That is the message should go back to the community again and people should hear that story. The fact that things are settling down and there is no fear again, there is no hate again, and [that] it is time to work with the communities again,” said Rajapaksha.

The growing popularity of Facebook in the country in recent years has caused the authorities a headache in some regards, according to Fernando.

“[When] we came to government in 2015, then we had only 3.2 million Facebook users, within two years it jumped twofold, and today where we are, we are in a very dangerous situation of how social media is running the country,” he said.

Associated Links

  • Facebook
  • Software
  • Computing
  • World Wide Web
  • Facebook
  • Photo sharing
  • Social information processing
  • Social media
  • Sri Lanka

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