Home / Columnists/ Social media – Foe or friend for Sri Lanka?

Social media – Foe or friend for Sri Lanka?


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 13 July 2018 00:00


In March 2018, Sri Lanka experienced ethnic tensions and the Government banned social media platforms such as Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp, among many other steps, to bring the situation under control. This created interested among many to discuss about the role of social media in the context of hate speech and fuelling ethnic tensions.

Sri Lankans are notorious to forget things quickly, so everyone seems to have forgotten what happened. However the responsible citizens should continue to engage in discussions and contribute to ensuring that such a situation does not happen again. 

When I say ‘such a situation’, I mean never again we should see ethnic violence in this country and never again should we see an internet or social media ban in this country.

With my interest in the topic, I have listed some of the ideas I like to put forward in this context. However, these are my own ideas and opinions and do not form the opinion of any organization that I am attached to.

The free access to internet should be respected as a key principle. It is a fundamental right in today’s context.

Freedom on social media should also be upheld, however, when crossing the lines that are acceptable within humanity, we need to have measures to tackle those who do such things.

While accepting that social media was banned in March 2018 for national security reasons, it must be stressed that never again in the future of Sri Lanka, such total bans should be implemented without proper assessment and consultation. The process that was followed in banning social media and controlling internet is not known and in a democratic country, we need to review what processes should be followed in such situations.

Social media may have helped tensions grow and riots start, however, it has to be noted that there was significant delays on proper actions being taken when the incidents in Ampara happened as well as even after the vehicle accident in Kandy. After all other systems failed to respond, blaming it all on social media is incorrect.

While such internet and social media total bans are unacceptable in a democratic society, even strict laws like in China or new laws in Germany are also not healthy for democracy. People today expect freedom and access, and if they are blocked in whatever the form, they will respond in other ways.

It has to be noted that bans are ineffective as people will use VPNs and other technology workarounds.

Social media just like other modes of communication are used for various malpractices such as pornography, fraud, black mailing, fake news spread, etc. But bad actors aren’t the majority, there are only a few and they are far between. The laws should be brought into handle these, but in no way should social media or internet be restricted. 

However let’s not forget that what we see online is a reflection of the actual society. Even without the involvement of social media, bad things happen in the society. So blaming it all on social media isn’t accurate. However law reforms in a need.

It is important to work with social media companies (platforms) to ensure some of the issues arising on platforms such as fake news, fake accounts, pornography, and use for fraudulent activities are handled effectively by the platform. 

To tackle those who cross the lines by using social media for fake news, fake accounts, pornography, and use for fraudulent activities, law reforms can be looked into. However this is a very different approach than looking at banning or restricting. 

Just like there are laws to handle offline issues, online world also need certain laws in place, and Sri Lanka is quite primitive when it comes to cyber laws, internet related laws, data protection laws, privacy laws, etc. and it is not clear which Government organisation actually provides thought leadership in these matters today but they are quite crucial in the world we live in today. 

It is also noteworthy that there have been only a few cases of official reports from Sri Lankan authorities to social media platforms on wrong doers, therefore effective readiness systems needs to be developed in Sri Lanka. These are more effective than bans, which are detrimental to the democracy.

Social media companies also needs to be more culturally sensitive and responsive. When certain hate posts spread either on racial, gender or any other matter, it is important that there is some local and contextual sensitivity is applied, and quickly responded to the situation.  

Social media has given voice to the people. It has created avenues for the people for their life, business, relationships, entertainment and many more. However, just like the society on the ground, it has issues and those need to be tackled foresightedly. 

(The writer is a longstanding industry activist and an author/writer. He has taken a keen interest on social media and its governance in recent times.)


Share This Article


DISCLAIMER:

1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.

COMMENTS

Today's Columnists

Of love and struggle: The interconnected feminist movements of South Asia

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The last Cat’s Eye column observed all that there is to celebrate in the recent Supreme Court of India’s judgement on Sec. 377, which decriminalised adult consensual same-sex sexual activity in private. We used this ‘magnificent’ decision, wh


Accessibility at buildings and places – Indispensable need to enjoy civil rights

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Have you not yet realised that the chances are now very high that at any stage or any moment in life, for a short time or for a long time, for different reasons, you or your loved ones could experience physical and/or sensory impediments, and fall in


Over-tourism: The new buzz word in tourism

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Periodically the tourism industry is in the habit of coming up with some interesting name to describe a new emerging trend or situation in the industry. Sometimes the phenomena is not new, but has become relevant and topical enough to ‘package’ a


Depreciation of the rupee and Sri Lanka’s dilemma

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The rupee depreciated by Rs. 29 from 2005 to 2014 and the average year-on-year depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee was 2.8% per year. Official foreign reserves increased from $ 2.7 billion to $ 8.2 billion over the same period. In stark contrast, th


Columnists More