The government of Sri Lanka has blocked access to social media and popular VPNs after there have been reports of misinformation following the bombings. It is not the first time that Sri Lanka resorts to these extreme measures. Last year social media sites were also blocked after an attack on a Buddhist temple sparked anti-muslim riots which were presumably fueled by online hate speech. Interestingly, even though social media have been (and still are) being criticized for ‘weaponizing civic discourse’ and spreading misinformation, the general sentiment has been largely negative towards the government’s social media shutdown in Sri Lanka generally its effectiveness and ethics.
What does this mean?
Most techblogs and general news outlets seem to take a stance in which social media should be on a more granular level, providing guidelines in managing misinformation instead of depriving citizens from an important democratic right altogether without any checks and balances. In contrast, others justify the means as misinformation leads to immediate violent mobilization. Both the criticism and support social media platforms currently receive further reinforces its position as a utility and that also government intervention should receive further scrutiny.
In the wake of these social media related incidents and with the expectation of many more to come, societies are forced to seriously consider social media regulation. However, this does not necessarily mean that these platforms and its users are fully at the mercy of government regulation. Alternatively, large social media platforms like Facebook have the opportunity to shape governments from within, by developing tools that enable greater transparency, security and accountability for all the stakeholders involved (e.g. users, businesses, governments and social media platforms themselves). For instance, analogous to the financial industry, social media could develop regulatory technology in which verification, auditing and compliance could be organized .