Fidest – Agenzia giornalistica/press agency

Quotidiano di informazione – Anno 31 n° 229

After Sri Lanka bombings, a social media shutdown

Posted by fidest press agency su martedì, 23 aprile 2019

By Jon Allsop. On Easter Sunday, massive, coordinated attacks rocked Sri Lanka. Near-simultaneous explosions ripped through three churches and three luxury hotels across the cities of Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa; later, two further explosions hit a low-budget inn and a residential complex in Colombo. To date, the death toll stands at nearly 300 people, with around 500 more reported injured. According to the AP, the church and hotel attacks were collectively executed by seven suicide bombers. No group has yet claimed responsibility, though a Sri Lankan official blamed the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a radical Islamist organization, for the casualties.After the bombs went off, authorities in the country blocked major social networks—a bid to stanch misinformation in a country where online falsehoods have been known to exacerbate intercommunal tensions. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram went dark; so did YouTube, Snapchat, and Viber. The shutdown featured prominently in foreign reporting on the attacks: as several outlets pointed out, platforms that were seen, a few years ago, as important “emergency response institutions” are no longer trusted with that function. The coverage added to an incessant negative news cycle for big tech. Ivan Sigal, executive director of Global Voices, told The New York Times that the Sri Lanka blackout was a “damning indictment” of the platforms; The Guardian, in a headline, said it reflected the sense “that online dangers outweigh benefits.”
It is undeniable that major platforms have failed to get to grips with junk information, particularly during fast-moving news events. In some countries—including Sri Lanka—targeted online lies have escalated into shocking physical violence. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t let our (justified) anger at Facebook et al blind us to the risks of top-down censorship in countries with troubling records on freedom of speech. In Sri Lanka, members of the then-prime minister’s party stormed several media outlets, in October, in a bid to take control. Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 126th (out of 180) in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index.Nor should we let debates about social media consume our focus in the aftermath of atrocious acts. Violence often spawns necessary conversations about our online communities, as happened last month, following the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. But hate predates the internet, and has different roots in different parts of the world. Facebook-bashing should not overshadow the exploration of those causes. Nor should it diminish the centrality of innocent victims.Many outlets did a solid, varied job in their quick-turn Sri Lanka coverage. Nonetheless, in our current news cycle, the social media question always looms particularly large. On Twitter yesterday, Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who helped break open the Cambridge Analytica scandal, assailed Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook’s role in spreading hate in Sri Lanka. Zeynep Tufekci, a prominent techno-sociologist, called him out. “Oh come on. This is Sri Lanka, an actual country with a real and complex history,” she wrote. “All this is too important to use as generic projection about Facebook or social media.” It was an important reminder. (font: CJR Editors)

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