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Sri Lanka Blocks Social Media to 'Ease Tensions'

Move could backfire, analysts say
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 22, 2019 12:03 AM CDT
Relatives of a blast victim grieve outside a morgue in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019.   (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
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(Newser) – Sri Lankan authorities blocked most social media after Easter Sunday attacks killed more than 200 people, with officials saying the temporary move was meant to curtail the spread of false information and ease tensions. The NetBlocks observatory says it detected an intentional blackout of popular services including Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, and Viber. Sri Lanka's defense ministry says the shutdown will extend until the government concludes its investigation into the bomb blasts that rocked churches, luxury hotels, and other sites, the AP reports. NetBlocks warns that such post-attack blackouts are often ineffective.

"What we've seen is that when social media is shut down, it creates a vacuum of information that's readily exploited by other parties," says Alp Toker, executive director of the London-based group. "It can add to the sense of fear and can cause panic." The group says its monitoring of Sri Lankan internet connectivity found no disruptions to the fundamental infrastructure of the internet, meaning the blackout was directed at specific services. Some social media outlets, such as Twitter, appeared unaffected, but the blockage affected popular messaging services. "That's going to be a problem for people trying to communicate with friends and family," Toker says. (Read more Sri Lanka stories.)

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