Wednesday May 22, 2019
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Here’s Why Sri Lanka Does not Trust Social Media Platforms

Sri Lanka temporarily shut down Facebook earlier in 2018 after hate speech spread on the company’s apps resulted in mob violence

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Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019. VOA

Battling the spread of hate speech on social media platforms especially Facebook for long, the Sri Lanka government on Sunday once again “temporarily blocked” social media from spreading fake news in the wake of deadly suicide bombings in the island that killed 290 people.

In a brief statement, the Sri Lankan President’s Secretary Udaya Seneviratne said the government has “decided to temporarily block social media sites including Facebook and Instagram in an effort to curb false news reports”.

Several users in the country reported they could not access Facebook and its photo-sharing service Instagram, Google-owned YouTube and WhatsApp for most part of the day.

Facebook spokesperson Ruchika Budhraja told TechCrunch that “teams from across Facebook have been working to support first responders and law enforcement as well as to identify and remove content which violates its standards”.

Google did not immediately comment.

“It’s a rare but not unprecedented step for a government to block access to widely used sites and services,” said the report.

Sri Lanka has been criticizing Facebook and its platforms for long when it comes to the spread of hate speech.

The island country in March ordered Internet and mobile service providers to temporarily block Facebook and its subsidiaries WhatsApp and Instagram as part of a crackdown on online hate speeches.

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Multiple apps are displayed on an iPhone in New York. VOA

“These platforms are banned because they were spreading hate speeches and amplifying them,” government spokesperson Harindra B. Dassanayake was quoted as saying in The New York Times.

The claims are supported by non-profit Freedom House which found “hate speech against minorities continues to foment on various social media platforms, particularly Facebook”.

Last May, a coalition of activists from eight countries, including India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, called on Facebook to put in place a transparent and consistent approach to moderation.

Activists argued that the lack of local moderators a” specifically moderators fluent in the Sinhalese language spoken by the country’s Buddhist majority — had allowed hate speech run wild on the platform.

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The coalition demanded civil rights and political bias audits into Facebook’s role in abetting human rights abuses, spreading misinformation and manipulation of democratic processes in their respective countries.

Sri Lanka temporarily shut down Facebook earlier in 2018 after hate speech spread on the company’s apps resulted in mob violence. (IANS)

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Sri Lanka: Hardline Buddhist Groups Likely Behind Anti-Muslim Attacks

The April 21 attacks, claimed by Islamic State, targeted churches and hotels

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Sri Lanka, Hardline Buddhist Groups
Muslim men stand near a damaged three-wheeler, after a mob attack in a mosque in the nearby village of Kottampitiya, Sri Lanka, May 14, 2019. VOA

Sri Lanka said on Wednesday hardline Buddhist groups were likely to blame for a wave of anti-Muslim riots that swept the island this week in apparent retaliation for Easter bombings by Islamist militants.

The April 21 attacks, claimed by Islamic State, targeted churches and hotels, killing more than 250 people and fueling fears of a backlash against the nation’s minority Muslims.

In the anti-Muslim unrest that started Sunday, mobs moved through towns in Sri Lanka’s northwest, ransacking mosques, burning Korans and attacking shops with petrol bombs, residents said.

Authorities have arrested some 78 suspected rioters, including three described as Sinhala Buddhist extremists who had been investigated for similar actions in the town in Kandy district last year.

Sri Lanka, Hardline Buddhist Groups

Sri Lanka said on Wednesday hardline Buddhist groups were likely to blame for a wave of anti-Muslim riots. Pixabay

“These are organized attacks on Muslim business houses and premises,” Navin Dissanayake, minister of plantation industries, said during a government news conference about the security situation.

Asked who was organizing the attacks, Dissanayake said: “I think these organizations that Amith Weerasinghe, Dan Priyasad, and Namal Kumara [are heading],” referring to the three Buddhist extremists arrested on Tuesday.

Local media reported on Wednesday that Priyasad was released on bail on Wednesday while Weerasinghe was remanded until May 28. The status of Kumara was not clear.

A police spokesperson was not immediately available for comment on the arrests.

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Muslims make up nearly 10% of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist. The Indian Ocean island was torn for decades by a civil war between separatists from the mostly Hindu Tamil minority and the Sinhala Buddhist-dominated government. The government stamped out the rebellion about 10 years ago.

In recent years, Buddhist hardliners, led by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or “Buddhist Power Force” have stoked hostility against Muslims, saying Middle Eastern influence has turned the community more conservative and insular.

In the same press conference, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, minister of public administration, said the group behind the attacks had political aims.

“This group is trying to tarnish the government’s image and show the government is unable to handle the situation,” he said, without naming the organization.

Sri Lanka, Hardline Buddhist Groups
In the anti-Muslim unrest that started Sunday, mobs moved through towns in Sri Lanka’s northwest. Wikimedia Commons

Authorities said the island was calm again, with no anti-Muslim violence reported on Wednesday.

Army probe

Also on Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s army said it was investigating a video posted on social media that showed a man wearing what appears to be an army uniform walking away seconds before an anti-Muslim mob attacked a building this week.

In the video, the man stands outside the building and then leaves. Seconds later, about two dozen people, including young men wearing motorbike helmets, run over and throw stones at the building.

Reuters could not independently verify the video. “The attention of the army has been drawn to a video clip where a person dressed in uniform similar to that of the army was watching while a group of violent saboteurs were in action in the general area of Thunmodara,” the army said in a statement announcing the investigation.

Two residents of Thunmodara, a town to the northeast of the capital Colombo, told Reuters that a mosque and some Muslim-owned shops were attacked.

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In over a dozen interviews in the hard-hit Kurunegala district northeast of Colombo, Muslims said attacks took place despite the presence of security forces.

One police source who declined to be identified told Reuters they did not have enough officers to handle the rioters. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera on Tuesday rejected allegations that police had stood by. (VOA)