Home / Top News / Did Sri Lanka’s Facebook ban help quell anti-Muslim violence?

Did Sri Lanka’s Facebook ban help quell anti-Muslim violence?

Colombo, Sri Lanka – Rioters had been already at the streets when government in Sri Lanka blocked get right of entry to to the web.

The mob – angered by way of the demise of a Sinhala Buddhist guy who used to be overwhelmed by way of a bunch of Muslim males – swept via neighbourhoods within the South Asian country’s central Kandy district for a 3rd day on March 7, setting fire to and vandalising mosques and ratings of Muslim houses and companies.

President Maithiripala Sirisena, in an interview with Sinhala weekly Divaina on Sunday, blamed social media for the riots, the 3rd primary assault towards Muslims in Sri Lanka since November.

“Extremist teams had been the usage of social media in probably the most heinous means,” he stated. “For this reason we needed to prohibit it.”

Calm has returned to the central hills now, however a state of emergency declared to stem the violence stays in position. No less than two folks had been killed within the riots and 232 houses had been destroyed.

Greater than 280 suspects were arrested, and get right of entry to to the web has been restored. However, Fb, which has greater than five.five million customers in Sri Lanka, remained blocked, at the side of social messaging utility WhatsApp.

Calls to raise the ban had been rising on Wednesday, with critics claiming the transfer have been useless in quelling violence towards Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority, who make up 9 p.c of the rustic’s 21 million inhabitants.

‘Vicious, brutal, venomous’

Sanjana Hattotuwa, an analyst on the Centre for Coverage Possible choices (CPA) in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, stated the anti-Muslim sentiment on-line used to be “slightly vicious, brutal and venomous”, however that it used to be “now not new”.

Sinhala Buddhist nationalist people and teams had been “technologically savvy”, he stated, and feature used social media for years, posting memes, pictures, movies and reside publicizes to unfold and magnify their messages on a number of platforms together with Fb, YouTube and Twitter.

Those teams accuse Muslims of top beginning charges and forcing folks to transform to Islam as a way to scale back Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhist majority.

Hattotuwa stated their fans are within the tens of 1000’s and their pages had been “extraordinarily well-curated and up to date ceaselessly”.

That comes with the Fb pages belonging to Amith Weeransighe, one of the vital distinguished figures arrested over the newest bout of violence, and teams equivalent to Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and Sinhala Ravaya.

Weerasinghe, in a video posted to Fb and YouTube in a while sooner than the riots, had steered his fans to converge on Digana within the Kandy district, pronouncing: “This the city has come to belong handiest to the Muslims. We must have began to handle this a very long time in the past”.

That video received greater than 50,000 perspectives on YouTube in per week.

Equivalent posts, blaming Muslims for inciting the violence in Kandy, and movies during which males in saffron and maroon gowns known as for improve from audience, had been shared extensively previous to and all over the riots.

In a single such video, a person in a maroon gown labelled Muslims as a “danger to the Sinhalese” and informed his supporters: “Sufficient of being affected person. The knife you’ve gotten at house isn’t just to chop the jackfruit. Now take your knife and cross.”

Many of those posts have since been taken down by way of Fb.

Amith Weerasinghe’s profile, and pages run by way of Weerasinghe’s Mahason Balakaya team and the BBS have additionally been blocked, and it used to be now not transparent what number of supporters they’d on-line. Then again, the net followings of alternative equivalent figures and teams supply a window into their achieve.

Ampitye Sumanarathana Thero, a hardline monk, who used to be reportedly noticed in Kandy forward of the riots has just about 40,000 fans. In a put up on March 6, he warned the federal government towards what he stated used to be discriminatory remedy of the Sinhalese “majority race”. Every other key determine, Dan Priyasad, who used to be held remaining November for attacking a protected area the place Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled violence in Myanmar had taken safe haven, has greater than 70,000 fans.

On February 24, per week sooner than the Kandy riots, he had steered his fans to “offer protection to your personal race”. 

In the meantime, a Fb team known as Sinhala Buddhist, with just about 800,000 fans, posted updates after the block, considered one of which claimed the rioters had been paid by way of the federal government.  

The CPA flagged a few of these teams in a file in 2014, together with the Sinhala Buddhist team, after anti Muslim rioting in southern Aluthgama left 4 lifeless and 80 others injured. On the time, the gang had 200,000 fans. In not up to 4 years, it has added 600,000 new fans.

“The chance of glossing over affect of on-line hate speech is strategy of radicalisation, in particular focused at and happening among the early life, dangers undermining Sri Lanka’s already post-war democratic material,” the file’s authors warned on the time.

Sinhala censors

In an emailed commentary, Fb stated it used to be responding to the placement in Sri Lanka and “are in touch with the federal government and non-governmental organisations to improve efforts to spot and take away such content material”.

The social media large, which has drawn complaint for failing to take on hate speech that has spawned violence in nations equivalent to Myanmar and South Sudan, stated it’s making an investment in era and human experience to take away content material that violated its insurance policies.

A spokeswoman for Fb stated the corporate has 14,000 censors who evaluation reviews in additional than 40 languages, together with Sinhala.

The corporate plans to double its world safety staff to 20,000 folks this 12 months, she added.

However, Duminda Jayasena, a Sri Lankan Fb consumer, publicised on Tuesday a reaction from Fb to a put up he flagged over incitement to violence remaining week. The put up in Sinhala stated: “Kill all Muslim babies, do not let even one stay”.

However Fb discovered that it didn’t violate the corporate’s hate speech requirements.  

Harin Fernando, Sri Lanka’s telecommunications minister, stated Fb “does now not have good enough assets to observe posts in Sinhalese”.

The corporate has got rid of greater than 400 posts because the riots started, he stated, including that his ministry might be operating with Fb “to verify this sort of content material does now not cross up”.

Officers from Fb had been set to discuss with Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo on Thursday, Fernando stated, including the block at the social community could also be lifted then.

Harsha De Silva, deputy financial system minister, steered on Monday President Sirisena to raise the block in a Twitter put up, bringing up “destructive affect” on Sri Lanka’s financial system, whilst Sagala Ratnayaka, minister for early life affairs stated the ban will abate tourism, in addition to the guidelines era and e-commerce sectors.


The rot in Sri Lankan society

Annoyed by way of the block, many Fb customers, together with Sinhala Buddhist nationalists, were turning to Digital Non-public Community or VPN era to avoid the block. 

“Even my hairdresser on the saloon had it on,” stated Shalini Peiris, a tender mom from Colombo, relating to the usage of VPN. The ban had made establishing her youngsters’s actions in class tricky, she stated, including: “Just a mom like me would know the price of fogeys’ teams on Fb and WhatsApp.”

Newshounds additionally stated the block hampered them from amassing witness testimony from violence-hit spaces, and averted sufferers from telling their tales.

In the meantime, Hattotuwa, the social media researcher, stated Sri Lanka’s executive must additionally imagine the usage of WhatsApp by way of Sinhala Buddhist nationalist teams, as a lot in their establishing used to be now being finished by means of closed teams at the platform. 

“Those teams are inconceivable to observe except you’re a part of them,” he stated. 

“Obviously, it isn’t social media this is responsible for this violence … There is a rot inside our society, and government want to deal with the basis reasons.” 

Screenshots of a dialog in a single such WhatsApp team, equipped by way of the CPA, confirmed a player calling for an assault on Mosques on March 6. In that team, known as Give protection to the Sinhalese, the player had additionally posted an image of machete and sticks, and known as for an assault on mosques.

In any other team known as Sinhala devils, contributors gave the impression to be discussing the Kandy assaults.

On March 7, the day the Web used to be shutdown, one player stated, “Once we went to assault, there used to be no person, they’d left.”

“Any individual had given them the scoop,” any other stated.

“We made the plan 3 days cross,” a 3rd added.  

Amantha Perera reported from Colombo. Zaheena Rasheed reported and wrote from Doha. 

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