I was recently contacted by a journalist from one of the leading Sunday newspapers in Sri Lanka on the growing anti-Muslim hate campaigns in Sri Lanka. The journalist asked two questions (reproduced verbatim),
- Anti-Muslim/Anti-Buddhist sentiments are being spread around effectively by social media, how do you analyse this?
- How can social media be used to stop such conflicts between communities?
I responded in some detail. Since the article in question was never published, I thought of reproducing my email here.
- Protect the Buddhism – බුදු දහම ආරක්ෂාකරමු – 15,000 followers (https://www.facebook.com/protectbuddhismlk)
- මාගේ හෘද සාක්ෂිය – Nearly 8,000 followers (https://www.facebook.com/pages/මාගේ-හෘද-සාක්ෂිය/351343628228268)
- Sinhala Ravaya | සිංහල රාවය – Over 1,200 followers (https://www.facebook.com/SinhalaRavaya)
- සිංහල රාවය ජාතික සංවිධානය – Over 700 followers (https://www.facebook.com/sinhalarawayapage)
- Even the most offensive anti-Muslim sentiments and statements have a growing audience and following in web based social media
- That such content has a greater chance of going viral, and influencing real world action, when published in online fora as opposed to mainstream and traditional media
- Content is largely visual in nature, appealing to a demographic as young as 18 (who are still in school)
- Anti-Muslim hate speech is generally, qualitatively more vicious and venomous than anti-LTTE sentiments even at the height of war
- Numbers of those joining these groups is on the rise, and the government is either unaware or unable to address this through counter-narratives and content in support of liberal values, tolerance and religious cohesion.
- There are no Facebook groups that engage directly with the growing and extremely virulent anti-Muslim hate on social media
- Groups that attempt to portray a more inclusive and tolerant country, by critiquing the positions of the extremists, often come under attack, are subject to hate speech, and fail to attract as many followers as the Facebook pages and groups with inflammatory content