By Skandha Gunasekara
Private sector representatives of the IT sector have proposed that the Government set up a task force for continuous monitoring of social media platforms, with the team from Facebook scheduled to arrive today expected to give additional input on preventing the spread of racism and hate speech via their website.
Federation of Information Technology Industry Sri Lanka (FITIS) Chairman Dr. Kithsiri Manchanayake told the Daily FT that the task force would need to consist of officials from the Police, Criminal Investigations Division, and the Information and Communication Technology Agency.
He noted that continuous monitoring of social media was essential in curbing its abuse. Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) Chairman Austin Fernando had indicated that the Government would lift its restrictions on WhatsApp, ahead of a meeting with parent company Facebook today.
“I think one of the main problems with Facebook personnel monitoring for Sri Lankan hate speech and racism was the language barrier. A team established by the Sri Lankan Government would prove to be far more efficient at that job,” Dr. Manchanayake said, adding that FITIS had suggested that a private sector entity be included to ensure an impartial task force.
In addition, Manchanayake said that FITIS had recommended that a separate committee be established to receive complaints regarding social media issues. “It is better to have one body, either directly under the President, Prime Minister or the Ministry, where anyone can go and lodge complaints regarding problems faced on social media. This committee can then make decisions according to nature of complaints as well,” he said.
Dr. Manchanayake was insistent that toughest possible penalties be meted out to those who had been apprehended in connection with the riots that occurred in various parts of the country in recent weeks. “The Government must impose the maximum penalty on the culprits behind the Kandy riots. The Government must ensure that the toughest action is taken against those who abuse social media to ensure that no future incidents occur,” he emphasised.
Furthermore, while asserting that the Government had made the right call in blocking social media sites to take control of the communal unrest being organised, Dr. Manchanayake pointed out that the social media restrictions would not have had much of a negative effect, financially, on businesses.
“Although some businesses would have had small monetary losses in the first day or two of the ban, they would have immediately installed a VPN and continued the operations as normal. Very unlikely there was much financial losses due to the social media ban,” he said.