Colombo Telegraph

Social Media Stoked Ethnic Violence: Will Myanmar Massacre Repeat In Sri Lanka?

By Indraka Ubeysekara

Indraka Ubeysekara

Ethnic violence perpetuated by social media is a relatively newer phenomenon which has taken a rapid currency across the globe in recent time. With varied ulterior motives and narrow political interests, groups who are said to be patriots and saviors of religions disperse hate and rage through social media platforms. Social media networks being one and only source of information for most, those disruptive massages get wider circulation forming a strong hub of followers who further peddle flames of hate, revenge and violence.

The recent organized attacks at several Muslim properties, particularly the Chilaw incident, reportedly were created, nurtured and diffused in the social media networks. The Chilaw incident seemed to have triggered over a Facebook comment ‘don’t laugh 1 day u will cry’ posted by a Muslim businessman who was subsequently beaten and his property was burnt by mobs gathered in the town. We shocked and disturbed to learn that some videos even showed a man was being slashed to death in Minuwangoda.

The pattern of ethnic violence took place in several parts of Sri Lanka show some signs of early stage of social media inflicted ethnic massacre in Myanmar (Burma). Rohingya Muslims represent a minority ethnic group in the Buddhist majority nation. After a Rohingya extremist militant group (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) attacked police and army base killing 12 security members, the entire Rohingya population lived in western Rakhine state for generations faced discrimination, their homes and villages were burned killing thousands of men, women and children while others have been denied citizenship. During this period reportedly over 430,000 Rohingya population had to flee the country for just mere survival who have now refuged mostly in Bagladesh,

During the period of ethnic violence, social media platforms were exploited by hard core majority Buddhist in several ways. Outpouring of misinformation and created narratives about minority Rohinya community as foreign invaders from Bangladesh were widely circulated with the backing of the Government media and the chief of military. The posts defamed Rohingya as dogs and rapists who should be shot dead to save the country. The claims in the social media also spread the stories of Muslims have children ten times than Buddhists and their intention is to turn the majority Buddhist nation into a Muslim state. The content of such posts fueled already heating arguments among radical Buddhists who eventually organized through social media to attack Rohinya minority and destroy their houses leaving them with a choice of fleeing or dying. The propaganda campaign against minority Rohinya groups also largely labelled Rohinya community as terrorists whose presence is a threat to for the rest and to the national security.

Thus, what we witnessed in recent ethnically driven attacks targeted ethnic minority Muslims have clear roots in hate speech, defamatory information, flawed narratives outpoured in social media networks. Being latent to some extent, those waves of anti-Muslim propaganda took unprecedented momentum after Easter terrorists attacks for the fact that the terrorist involved in suicide bombing bore Muslim names. The narrow political opportunists and radical Buddhist backscratchers took the advantage by spreading the venom of hatred and Islamophobia inflating the narrative of average Muslim population are also backing this ruthless killing of innocent lives. Self-obsessed non-Muslim businessmen also took the full advantage of the devastation by campaigning a mass boycotting of purchasing from Muslim-owned outfits as a mean of blocking funding sources of ISIS terrorist group. Those posts filled with fake contents with massively edited photographs sparked the flames of hate against average Muslims living in the country which manifested in brutal attacks at Muslim property and people with the patronage of both Buddhist extremist establishments and political leadership in Negambo, Chillaw, Kuliyapitiya, Munuwangoda etc., we all hope the list will not continue.

Containing and taking stringent actions against social media stoked hate speech is a responsibility of all. Whilst the incumbent Government should take rigorous measures to prevent this uncivilized organised project beyond temporary blocking of social media in incident-basis, it should also bring rigid but specified laws to punish these hate speech hawkers under the supremacy of rule and order of the country. We also should act and react proactively at least in three fronts. First, self-awareness of the gravity of the issue and its long-lasting repercussions to the country and not to contribute this social media decease at any cost. Second, track such ethnic hatred brokers at your friends and family circles and to engage in a constructive dialogue to prevent them doing it at individual basis. Third, educate younger generation known to you on how to distinguish fact from fiction and how to be critical of various narratives appear in the social media. This can include to take them through social media best practices, its strengths and dangers in disguise. Such discussion should also be aimed at raising your voice against the sparks of ethnic hatred born and grown within home and office.

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