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Sri Lanka bans social media services once again as tensions arise due to Facebook post

Update: Access to social media services in Sri Lanka was restored on May 17, following a four-day block, reports Netblocks. Major internet providers Dialog Axiata and Airtel were the first to restore access, followed by restoration on Sri Lanka Telecom.

Sri Lanka has once again temporarily banned some social media and messaging services reportedly after mosques and Muslim owned businesses were attacked in wake of the Easter Sunday bombings by Islamist militants, per Reuters. Netblocks confirms that Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Viber, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger are blocked on leading internet providers (Update: For the first time, Twitter is now also blocked for all Dialog Axiata subscribers in Sri Lanka, per Netbocks). The violence was reportedly triggered due to a Facebook post by a Muslim resident whose online comment “1 day u will cry” locals said was interpreted as threat of violence. The man was beaten by residents of the mainly Christian town of Chilaw; curfew was imposed in the town through the night. “Social media blocked again as a temporary measure to maintain peace in the country,” Nalaka Kaluwewa, the director general of the Department of Government Information said.

This is third time in a month that the Sri Lanka government has banned social media services, all to control the spread of misinformation and rumors online. Social media services were first banned immediately after the bombing on April 21st and was lifted after 10 days. A second ban was imposed on May 5th after ethnic tensions erupted in Negombo, one of the cities targeted in the bombings. On April 25th, the government banned all pilotless aircraft including drones.

A few things to remember about the current ban: one, VPN services are accessible, unlike during the first disruption when even VPN services were restricted. Two, Twitter, Telegram, VK, LinkedIn and social platforms less popular in Sri Lanka remain generally available as during previous incidents.

The government’s warning against panic caused on social media: Sri Lanka’s defence secretary General (Rtd) Shantha Kottegoda urged the public to approach the authorities with security threats instead of spreading it online, stating that it “would only cause panic and unrest”. He referred to several incidents where the public had used social media to spread information related to security, including one posted by a Buddhist Monk speculating on possible violent acts in the near future by extremists. He said such news which are not based on any solid facts can only lead to disruption of public life.

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