In response to a series of bombings in its churches and hotels on Easter Morning, Sri Lanka’s government has instituted a country-wide curfew and social media ban. An effort to stop the spread of inflammatory rumors, the blackout has raised concerns of government control over social media platforms and the subsequent impact on free speech.
As of late Monday, though the curfew has been lifted, the social media blackout remains. Sites including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Viber, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and the messaging app What’sApp are still dark across the country.
The move has made it harder for those who live outside of Sri Lanka to get updates from their friends and family who remain within the region. The question has arisen — is blocking social media also keeping authentic news from reaching people?
The Associated Press pointed to Sri Lankan authorities’ swift institution of a social media blackout as a reflection of distrust in American internet companies to control harmful content. This isn’t the first time Sri Lanka has blocked access to Facebook. In March 2018, access to the social media site was shut down amid rising Anti-Muslim violence spurred on by false information shared on the network.
Sri Lanka isn’t alone. Recently, Australia enacted legislation imposing fines and jail time for social media companies and their executives if “abhorrent violent material” isn’t removed from their platforms. The law was a response to the March 19 shootings in two Christchurch, New Zealand mosques.
The Sri Lankan government has stated they will keep the blackout in place until investigations into the bombings conclude. Leaving many wondering how their friends and loved ones fared during the worst coordinated attacks the country has seen since their civil war ended 10 years prior.