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Govt. criticised for blocking social media

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Saturday, 10 March 2018 00:00


  • Complaint filed in HRC against the move 
  • Experts question effectiveness of the decision

By Chathuri Dissanayake 

The move by the Government to block social media sites and communications apps has come under criticism by different groups, with one individual filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission (HRC). 

The National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection yesterday complained to the HRC against the Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) for blocking websites and apps saying that the decision has violated section 14 (1) A of the constitution by the move. 

Chairman of the organisation Ranjith Vithanage told Daily FT that if the HRC does not take up the matter, they are prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court. 

“The Government has taken this decision without clear evidence and with no recommendation from any expert. If there was a situation to be concerned about, then there should have been a proper procedure followed. This shows a dangerous trend,” he said. 

“We are doing this now, so that it will not happen in the future to cut out information outflow for political reasons.” 

LIRNEasia Chairman Prof. Rohan Samarajeewa too was critical of the blanket ban pointing out that, as an immediate measure to address the current issue, the Government should have worked with social media sites such as Facebook to “identify the sources of hate messages if any, and shut them down, rather than shut down the whole system” blocking even the constructive messages from respected, influential personalities from getting through.

Highlighting that the issue at hand today was one built up over the years, with contribution from even mainstream media, he said that the root cause of the problem lies in the spread of falsehoods and hate over multiple years, not solely in the specific messages being communicated at present.

“The immediate priority for the Government (and for all well-meaning citizens of Sri Lanka) is stopping further violence.  From colonial times, it has been believed that the formation of mobs can be prevented by stopping or controlling communication.  The idea of the curfew, which prevents individuals from being on the roads and public spaces, reflects that thinking.  In the context of telephones and telegraphs, the Government has believed that their control in times of “emergency” is necessary to prevent the formation of mobs.  The Telecommunication Act includes provisions that allow it to do so.  Obviously, the framers of that legislation did not know about social media back in 1991.  So the question is whether the banning of one application, Facebook, or a class of applications, social media, is legal.”   

“Even if the legality issue is kept aside, one has to ask if such a ban will be effective, given that Facebook and Internet penetration in Sri Lanka is still around 30%.  The evidence does seem to be clear that Facebook or other social media are solely responsible for mobilising the violent mobs.  Is it not possible that phone calls and SMS are also used?  Or people going across fences to spread lies and hate, and encouraging the formation of violent mobs?” Prof. Samarajeewa questioned. 

There is no doubt that all stakeholders need to work hard, in cooperation with the providers of social media applications, to prevent the spreading of hate speech, he further said, adding that this is not a task that is limited to when the mobs are running, but is a long-term project.  

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