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A Study of Online Hate Speech in Sri Lanka

24 September 2014

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A considerable amount of social media hate speech in Sri Lanka occurs on Facebook. The ability to like, share and comment on posts allows forums for supporters to engage, to plan rallies and other events and keep all similar posts in one place. It also allows admins of pages to remove and ban dissenting voices, allowing a greater degree of control than platforms such as Twitter. This phenomenon is not only relevant to Sri Lanka. According to the Umati Project in Kenya “only 3% of total hate speech comments collected by Umati originated on Twitter, while 90% were found on Facebook” (iHub Research & Ushahidi 2013: 5). Facebook also allows easier data collection on past events in comparison to Twitter. Twitter requires manual archiving in real time or sophisticated technical access to and analysis of its data streams, beyond the capacity and scope of this study (even though Twitter often acts in concert with content on Facebook to both flame violence and also dispel rumours). The degree to which hate speech exists on social media is often undetected by platform, domain or app owners (e.g. Facebook’s own hate speech monitoring mechanisms) due to the expression being predominantly in Sinhala (even the language used to annotate photos, illustrate videos or draw memes is predominantly if not exclusively Sinhala). This is why content in English that runs completely counter to Facebook’s policies around hate speech finds free expression in Sinhala, only subject to scrutiny and compliance when reported by conscientious users. In highlighting some of these pages this analysis hopes to bring attention to the need for monitoring, further research and action against online hate speech in Sri Lanka, recognising at the same time that this is not a challenge limited to the country.

Liking Violence: A study of hate speech on Facebook in Sri Lanka
by Shilpa Samaratunge and Sanjana Hattotuwa
Centre for Policy
Alternatives |
September
2014