Sri Lanka blocked Facebook for three days to prevent the spread of hate speech. The Sinhalese majority have perpetrated violence and hate speech against the Muslim minorities in and around the city of Kandy. Mobs rioted and set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and mosques.
Sri Lanka responded by banning Facebook, including WhatsApp and Viber, other forms of social media active in Sri Lanka that are owned by Facebook. This is the first time the country limited social media communications since the decades long civil war. The country is attempting to stop the spread of hatred that inspires this violence by restricting the Internet and phone access in the Kandy area.
This restriction of communication has further implications for the future of media and social media company’s policies on hate speech. While Facebook does have a policy against hate speech, it is difficult to completely monitor everything that is put on the website across the globe, which is why government action had to occur in Sri Lanka. This limitation of communication not only thwarts the spread of ideas, but also stops any form of information to be shared. People who were attacked in the violence will have difficulty reaching out to their friends and family. This safety concern is a unique 21st century issue because we have the previous experience of reaching out and assuring our loved ones that we are okay, and this restriction will create more anxiety. Moreover, this temporary ban will give Sri Lankans the opportunity to evaluate how they communicate and how their social media use has greater, sometimes violent, impact.