Social media ban to be lifted on Friday | Daily News
Viber ban lifted:

Social media ban to be lifted on Friday

The ban on social media sites are expected to be lifted on Friday (16), almost a week since the government imposed the ban under Emergency regulations, Telecommunications, Digital Infrastructure and Foreign Employment Minister Harin Fernando said yesterday.

“I spoke to the President today (13) and he agreed that the ban could be lifted,” he added.

Tensions between Muslims and Sinhalese groups in Kandy last week resulted in the government taking action to ban social media on March 7, to quell and control the spread of racially inciting rumours and hate speech.

Addressing a media briefing held at the Ministry, Fernando said a team from Facebook would be visiting Sri Lanka on Thursday (15) to finalise discussions over how they would work together in future to identify hate speech on Facebook.

“In the past we would ask SLCERT to remove racially motivated pages on Facebook but we found that the response from Facebook was too slow - at times it took up to a week and by that time it was too late”, Minister Fernando said.

Correspondence between the Ministry and the heads of Facebook in the region, operating from India, in the last three days, had revealed that the delays were caused due to a lack of resource personnel able to monitor offensive material in Sinhala.

Facebook had also asked that the government nominate an agency with whom they could work together to resolve the problem,

“We have thus asked that they work with both SLCERT and the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRCSL) which has direct links to Defence to monitor hate speech”, said Fernando.

Facebook has also assured them that they would now pay more attention to users in Sri Lanka to ensure that their platform is not used to spread racial bigotry. They have also promised to block any user found guilty of spreading hate speech.

The Minister also assured that monitoring of content will only be done to control hate speech and elements which are detrimental to national security, “This is by no means an attempt to clamp down on views against the government”, he stressed.

According to the Ministry, in 2015 there were 3.5 million Facebook users in Sri Lanka and by 2018, those numbers have doubled to 6.2 million. These numbers have alerted the government to the seriousness of the issue with Fernando promising to bring in legislation along with a dedicated regulatory body to monitor these platforms in future.

“Unlike mainstream media, there are no checks and balances on social media. And first time users tend to believe whatever that is posted on line”, he said.

Admitting that they have allowed for lapses in national security by not monitoring these platforms more, the Minister observed that as technology advances at a rapid pace, the government too needs to keep up to ensure that it is not misused.

“As citizens however, we all have the responsibility to use this valuable tool wisely, said the minister as he pointed out that it was only Sri Lanka which had such lax regulations on social media and that countries like Iran, Egypt, China, Syria and even the UK monitored their citizens on social media platforms on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, the Government Information Department yesterday announced that the ban on Viber would be lifted from midnight yesterday (13).

All other social media applications would have the ban removed on Friday.

Director General of the Department, Sudharshana Gunawardena in a statement explained that while the ban had been imposed to control the social unrest which was fast spreading last week, the security situation in the country by now was returning to normal and strict legal action was being taken against the perpetrators.

As the situation returns to normal, Sri Lankans living abroad, especially those employed abroad have requested that the government take into account their difficulties in communicating with their love ones back home.

Further the government’s attention has also been drawn to the business community, small and medium scale entrepreneurs and tourists who visit the country who are disadvantaged by the ban, explained Gunawardena further.

Thus as a first step towards removing the ban, the government will re-open Viber, said the Department.



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