Sri Lanka social media shutdown raises fears

Sri Lanka social media shutdown raises fears

Sri Lanka’s decision to block social media following deadly suicide attacks highlights a growing distrust of online platforms, but critics said the move is likely to restrict the flow of important news and information as well as abusive content.

The move comes amid growing frustration by governments around the world with internet platforms over the propagation of misinformation and incitements of violence.

According to the digital rights group NetBlocks, Sri Lanka blocked Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, Viber, WhatsApp and YouTube following the Easter bombings targeting churches and hotels.

Sri Lanka’s move was the second time it has blocked social networks, following similar actions after an outbreak of violence in 2018.

The decision highlights the troubled reputation of mostly American-owned social media companies, which several years ago had been seen as a force for freedom of information.

The Leaders Online Correspondent Ashraff A Samad said that the government are quick to take action now in the wake of terrorism to prevent rumors and social unrest, but the ease at which they are able to shut down social media platforms also unveils how much power and control governments have on the service providers.

He also said that the press needs to obtain a security letter in order to walk out during the curfew to do their job.

Sri Lankan authorities’ pledge to maintain the shutdown until its investigation is complete. The restrictions on Whatsapp also creates a lot of tension among people who are trying to reach their loved ones in Sri Lanka.

By blocking Facebook, Sri Lanka also shut down the leading social network’s “safety check” feature that enables users to communicate with friends and family after a disaster.

“These attacks are horrific. And people need social media platforms to obtain accurate information & to contact loved ones,” tweeted Allie Funk, a researcher with the human rights group Freedom House.

“The government’s decision to restrict these apps is a dangerous one.”

Emma Llanso of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a digital rights group, said there are no easy solutions to misinformation on social media.

“Blocking websites can fuel disinformation by leaving journalists and other credible sources of information with fewer avenues to reach people and to debunk falsehoods,” she said. “We need more nuanced solutions.”

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