Sri Lanka has temporarily blocked access to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp after a series of bombings left over 200 dead, fearing the spread of misinformation

  • The Sri Lankan government has reportedly blocked access to various social media sites after a wave of bombings left over 200 dead across the country.
  • Although there is no known direct connection between Sunday’s attacks and social media at this time, Facebook and other social media have played a role in fanning ethnic and religious violence in Sri Lanka and other countries in recent years.
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After aseries of bombings at churches and hotels early Easter Sunday left over 200 dead across Sri Lanka, the country’s government has blocked access to social media sites including Facebook and Instagram,according to Sri Lanka’s government news site.

According to that report, Sri Lanka’s Presidential Secretariat made the decision “as false news reports were spreading through social media.”

A tweet from Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemning the attacks cautioned residents of the country to “avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation,” and a tweet from Sri Lanka’s Red Cross debunked social media rumors that their building had been attacked.

Read more:World leaders including Pope Francis, Donald Trump, and Barack Obama offered their support after Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka claimed hundreds of lives

The New York Times reports that, although there is no known specific connection between Sunday’s bombings and social media, there have been several incidents in recent years of ethnic violence and social unrest in Sri Lanka stirred up in part by viral misinformation spread on social media and messaging networks like Facebook and WhatsApp.

In March 2018,Sri Lanka temporarily banned access to social media across much of the country amid a wave of violence between the Buddhist and Muslim communities. In that instance, Mano Ganesan, Minister of National Coexistence Dialogue and Official Languages, said that the government was trying to halt “all communal hate speech posts via social media.”

Anin-depth article at The New York Times explores the ways social media can fan the flames of ethnic and religious tension, sometimes leading to violence. The article describes how a video of a misunderstanding in a Muslim-owned restuarant in which the owner was falsely accused of putting sterilization-causing medication in a customer’s food went viral on Facebook, setting off a wave of anti-Muslim violence across the country.

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