The Current

Blocking social media could do more harm than good for Sri Lanka, journalist warns

In the wake of Sunday's bombings, Sri Lanka imposed a social media blackout to stop the spread of misinformation and limit the chance of further attacks. But some experts argue that the measure isolates ordinary people in a time of mass trauma and mourning.

'What it does is stop people who want to organize any kind of non-violent gathering,' Meera Selva said

Sri Lankan government officials say the temporary social media ban will stop the spread of fake news and misinformation that could escalate tensions. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

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The social media blackout following Sunday's massacre in Sri Lanka won't address problems in the aftermath of the violence, according to senior journalist Meera Selva.

"I do completely understand why people support the ban. I do, however, feel that it is not going to address the problem," she explained to Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current.

"A lot of research shows that these social media bans do not stop violence in societies when they happen. What it does is stop people who want to organize any kind of non-violent gathering from being able to coordinate and mobilize. It doesn't stop the people who are intent on violence."

Following the lethal bomb attacks, the Sri Lankan government announced a temporary ban on all social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The blackout is intended to stem the spread of "false news reports" online, which the government said could further ethnic and religious divisions in the country and lead to more violence.

A person mourns at a grave of a victim of the attack at Sellakanda Catholic cemetery in Negombo, Sri Lanka. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

More than 350 people died as a result of the massacre, which targeted several churches and luxury hotels across the country.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Christians worshipping in three churches and people at three hotels. Sri Lanka's junior defence minister has blamed breakaway members of two obscure local extremist Muslim groups.

To discuss the social media blackout and its merits, Tremonti spoke to:

  • Meera Selva, the director of the Journalism Fellowship Programme at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.
  • Ashwin Hemmathagama, senior journalist and parliamentary correspondent for the Daily Financial Times, an English-language newspaper published in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
  • Paul Barrett, the deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

With files from CBC News. Produced by John Chipman, Jessica Linzey and Danielle Carr.