Sri Lanka Riots: Country blames Facebook for inciting riots, blocks access
The Sri Lankan government has blocked access to social media sites. Authorities accuse Facebook of not controlling rampant hate speech that it says contributed to anti-Muslim riots last week. Three people died in the riots and the country is now under a state of emergency. Shweta Bajaj tells us more from Colombo.
The Sri Lankan government banned Facebook and other social media sites following the violence that rocked the country's Central province. The government says Facebook was the reason why the mob spread like wild fire.
SHWETA BAJAJ COLOMBO "Sri Lanka's government wants Facebook to take quicker and more drastic action against the hate speech that spreads online. It believes that Facebook did not take the action quick enough, which led to the violence in Kandy spreading."
Sri Lanka's telecommunication Minister says Facebook is responsible for the spread of violence that led to 3 people dying and eventually leading up to the state of emergency.
HARIN FERNANDO SRI LANKAN TELECOMMUNICATIONS MINISTER "In an incident like this, action has to be prompt. Taking it down has to be immediate. Let's say you broadcast a Facebook live video telling others to come attack this place right now. 'We are attacking it at 6pm and they say gather at 5pm. If the post isn't taken down at that moment, the chance is gone. We were in that kind of a situation, so we needed to block it, and then it was escalating everyday. And when you calm a situation down in one place its starts in another place because Facebook enabled it to do so."
Mobs of hard-line Sinhalese Buddhists burned shops and houses owned by Muslims. Many Facebook pages were banned including that of belonging to Amith Weeransighe who was arrested during the violence. He had posted a video of the rioting and asked his followers to head for Digana in Kandy, which has a majority Muslim population and saw some of the worst violence in the area. Many other such posts that incited the violence were also widely shared. These posts have now been taken down but the government said it was too little, too late. Critics, though, don't agree.
Milinda Rajapaksha is a Digital Rights Activist and Member of Sri Lanka People's Youth front. He has filed a litigation suit against the government's social media ban. He says the government needs to lift the ban and instead concentrate on providing security to its citizens.
MILINDA RAJAPAKSHA DIGITAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST "This is when we really need social media back, to pass on the (positive)message. The best example is that within 48 hours, some of those mosques were rebuilt, and some of those shops were built back within 48 hours with the help of Sinhalese people. That is the message that should go back to the community again. People should hear those stories. The fact is that things are settling down and there is no fear again, no hate again, and it is time to work with communities again."
Facebook officials are traveling to Sri Lanka and will have a meeting with the country's Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and the telecommunication minister.
HARIN FERNANDO SRI LANKAN TELECOMMUNICATIONS MINISTER "We came to government in 2015 then we had only 3.2 million Facebook users, within two years it jumped two times, and today where we are, we are in a very dangerous situation."
There have been many instances in Asia where Facebook has been used to incite violence, such as in the case of Myanmar violence against Rohingya Muslims. Sri Lanka believes regulation needs to be stronger. Shweta Bajaj, CGTN, Colombo, Sri Lanka.