The government of Sri Lanka has temporarily blocked access to various social media services following deadly explosions that erupted in the country, killing at least 207 people and injuring hundreds more. Eight bombings have been reported, on Catholic Easter on three churches and some hotels.
In a brief statement, the secretary of Sri Lankan President Udaya Seneviratne said the government "has decided to temporarily block social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram in a bid to curb" fake news ". The government said the services would be restored as soon as investigations into the attacks came to a conclusion. Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, described the blasts as a terrorist incident.
Nalaka Gunawardene, confirmed in a tweet that WhatsApp was also blocked in the country. Others reported that they were unable to access YouTube. But some said they managed to use it WhatsApp.
Ruchika Budhraja, his spokesman Facebook told TechCrunch: "Our thinking is with the victims and their families and the community affected by this terrible act. Groups from across Facebook work to support first-rate correspondents and law enforcement as well as to identify and remove content that violates our standards. We know the government's statement on the temporary exclusion of social media platforms. People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and we are determined to maintain our services and help the community and the country during this tragic event. "
It is a rare but not unprecedented step for a government to block access to widely used websites and services. Although Sri Lanka's move is apparently aimed at preventing the spread of false news, it is likely to have a downplaying effect on freedom of speech and on people's communication efforts with their loved ones.
Sri Lanka, like other emerging nations, has fought in the past with misinformation. The government has complained that the false news that has been shared on Facebook has helped spread hatred and violence against the Muslim minority of the country. Other countries, like India, say Encrypted Messaging WhatsApp has contributed to spreading misinformation, urging the social media company to add limits to the number of groups to which a message can be sent.
Iran and Turkey also block access to social media sites in recent years amid protests and political upheavals.