Ban backfires
Posted on March 14th, 2018

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The government has incurred the wrath of all netizens by unnecessarily extending its ban on social media. It has buckled under pressure and begun relaxing the draconian restrictions at long last. But, its digitally enhanced image has suffered irreparable damage. There seems to be no end to its bungling.

True, some fanatics abused several social media platforms, especially Facebook, to disseminate incendiary propaganda and incite communal violence. Out of its desperation to douse the flames of communalism, the government may have thought restricting access to social media would help it control the deteriorating situation in Kandy. It can’t be faulted for its initial reaction, but, we repeat, it should have promptly lifted Emergency and restrictions on social media immediately after the return of normalcy.

The problem with extraordinary measures such as Emergency regulations and the curtailment of civil liberties is that they are habit-forming. Politicians get addicted to them in next to no time. It is well-nigh impossible for them to kick the habit thereafter. The government has shown its proneness to addiction!

Social media facilitated the 2015 regime change and the yahapalana leaders, including no less a person than President Maithripala Sirisena, profusely thanked them for the role they had played in dislodging the Rajapaksa government. They also bragged that they had used Viber to coordinate their anti-government operations while the Rajapaksas were busy tapping their phones and monitoring their movements. (The Rajapaksa regime claimed that the then Opposition figures were using satellite phones made available by a certain foreign embassy in Colombo to conspire against them!)

Today, social media has turned virulently hostile towards the yahapalana worthies and vice versa. It is only natural that they have fallen out and are at each other’s jugular. The only way social media could score hits, which get monetized by way of advertisements, is to attack the powers that be really hard. Social media, too, are without permanent friends or permanent enemies. The Internet is full of cyber piranhas which don’t spare anyone famous or powerful. Having preyed on the Rajapaksas before 2015 they have now turned on the yahapalana leaders, who, unable to control them, are meting out collective punishment to all netizens.

The government came to power, promising a digital economy among other things. Its leaders never miss an opportunity to talk ad nauseam about the importance of e-commerce and connectivity in a globalised world; the free Wi-Fi project they introduced to facilitate connectivity has come a cropper. Thousands of businesses, dependent on the Internet, have been badly hit by the social media ban. They have suffered staggering losses, we are told. Tourism has also been adversely affected. Many Sri Lankans who have been denied affordable means of communicating with their loved ones abroad have been cursing the government.

Social media have got under the skin of some ministers, who have been making strident calls for monitoring and restricting them. It looks as if the government had extended the social media ban by way of a trial balloon to ascertain public reaction thereto with a view to reimposing them to protect its political interests.

Pressure is mounting on the present administration to fulfil its Geneva commitments, which include a promise to set up of a war crimes tribunal. Sooner or later, it will have to unveil its new Constitution which is currently on the anvil. All signs are that the stage is being prepared for some high-profile show trials against key Opposition politicians. Such moves are bound to run into stiff resistance with its opponents making the maximum use of the social media to crank up anti-government campaign. Besides, there is a limit beyond which the Provincial Council polls cannot be postponed. Facing another electoral contest is a frightening proposition for the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration still reeling from the Feb. 10 defeat.

Anti-government propaganda via social media is sure to return with a vengeance after the ban is fully lifted. The best way the yahapalana leaders can tackle this problem is to get their act together without providing grist to its opponents’ mill. Bans always backfire.

5 Responses to “Ban backfires”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    A disproportionately larger percentage of UNPers use the internet. They are the worst affected. Some cannot get by without facebook. Can’t imagine how they take it. UNP has been utterly guttered by their move.

    Sirisena is held hostage by the UNP, social media, the international community and minority voters. It will be interesting to see how (if ever) he escapes from this. Elected by social media, driven out by social media.

  2. Nanda Says:

    JO and Ravi Karunanayaka stopped accusing each other. Both parties singing the smae song in different tunes. Amazing ! Things change so fast under ‘Patriotic’ flag and foot soldiers of peaceful Sinhala-Busshit movement are under arrest.

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    Dilrook,

    You said “Elected by social media, driven out by social media.”

    How very apt! Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword …. perhaps?

  4. Sarath W Says:

    Sirisena is not held hostage. He is being blackmailed because he made a dirty deal with Chandrika, Ranil and Mangala on behalf of the RAW and the Western enemies, funded by the Tamil diaspora when he agreed to contest against Mahinda.

  5. L Perera Says:

    Sirisena will go down in history as

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