Facebook ban lifted in Sri Lanka

Facebook ban lifted in Sri Lanka

March 15, 2018   12:56 pm

President Maithripala Sirisena has instructed the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) to lift the temporary restrictions imposed on social media website Facebook, with immediate effect.  

“On my instructions, my secretary has discussed with officials of Facebook, who have agreed that its platform will not be used for spreading hate speech and inciting violence.” 

“As such, I instructed TRCSL to remove the temporary ban on Facebook with immediate effect,” the President tweeted.

The President has given this instruction following a detailed assessment of the decisions taken during the meeting between the Secretary to the President and the representatives from Facebook, held at the Presidential Secretariat, today (15).

The Government took steps to restrict access to some social media platforms temporarily during the last few days, in order to curtail the attempts to spread communal violence across the country, misusing the social media in a manner detrimental to the national harmony. 

“This initiative paved the way to contain the situation and the Government is taking steps to allow access to social media while implementing the necessary monitoring and surveillance methods to ensure the public safety,” the PMD said.

The Secretary to the President met representatives from Facebook to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka. The latter had conveyed to the Secretary that Facebook does not tolerate hate speech on its platform. Facebook representatives shared their deep commitment to remove hate speech connected to race, ethnicity, national origin, and religious affiliation in the context of the immediate emergency situation in Sri Lanka, the statement said. 

“The government will continue to work together with Facebook to prevent hate speech and misuse of the platform.” 

“Anyone propagating hate speech on Facebook is liable under Sri Lankan law and prompt action will be taken as per Facebook’s community standards. Both sides will continue to engage extensively to discuss these matters.”

The Government extended its regrets over the inconvenience caused to the public due to this temporary restriction to access social media tools.

The Government took steps last Wednesday (7) to temporarily restrict access to social media websites and messaging platforms, in order to curtail the attempts to spread communal violence across the country, misusing the social media in a manner detrimental to the national harmony.  

The government said it was able to control the rapid spread of violence by temporarily imposing restriction on social media as an action to ensure the national and public safety of Sri Lanka.

President Sirisena, who is currently on a state visit to Japan, instructed his Secretary to implement the necessary monitoring and surveillance methods, and allowed access to  Viber from Tuesday night (13) lifting the temporary restriction imposed on it.

Based on further evaluation of the social media networks that are still denied access, President advised the lifting of restrictions on WhatsApp with effect from midnight of yesterday (14).

“However, the President stresses the importance of a guided mechanism to prevent the attempts to disturb the livelihoods of people through spreading ethnic-hatred and racism and damaging the image of an individual through false allegations,” a statement said. 

A meeting was held under the patronage of Secretary to the President, Austin Fernando and the representatives of Facebook at the Presidential Secretariat today (15), to arrive at a method to ensure the necessary protection and surveillance and lift the temporary restriction on access to Facebook.

Facebook had said in a statement that the number of people working to monitor content on the platform had doubled to 14,000 in the past year and included Sinhala speakers.

“In response to the situation in Sri Lanka, we have increased our local language capabilities [and] established communications with government and non-governmental organisations to support efforts to identify and remove such content,” it said.

Facebook has more than 6 million users in Sri Lanka, the number of accounts having doubled since 2015.

“We are concerned with the way access to the internet is being restricted and depriving people of important connections and expression, and we hope that access will be restored soon,” Facebook had said in its statement.

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