Today, I was interviewed on video for BBC Sinhala service for my views on hate speech and fake news. Given below is my remarks in Sinhala, excerpts from which are to be used.
In summary, I said these phenomena predate social media and the web itself, but cyber space has enabled easier and faster dissemination of falsehoods and hatred. Additionally, anonymity and pseudonymity — fundamental qualities of the web – seem to embolden some to behave badly without revealing their identities.
The societal and state responses must be measured, proportionate and cautious, so as not to restrict everybody’s freedom of expression for the misdeeds of a numerical minority of web users. I urged a multi-pronged response including:
– adopting clear legal definitions of hate speech and fake news;
– enforcing the existing laws, without fear or favour, against those peddling hatred and falsehoods;
– mobilising the community of web users to voluntarily monitor and report misuses online; and
– promoting digital literacy at all levels in society, to nurture responsible web use and social media use.
Social media bashing is a popular sport among media critics and others in Sri Lanka. Sadly, some have no clear idea what social media is (and isn’t), thus conflating this category of web content with others like news websitea and gossip websites.
In this week’s Ravaya column (appearing in issue of 21 February 2016), I try to explain this basic categorization along with a brief history of the web and web 2.0. I also reiterate the basic user precautions for social media users where the motto us: user beware!
“Every citizen – including activists and academics — can play a part in shaping the future of our democracy. In this, technology is not the only key driver; what matters even more is the strategic use of our imagination and determination.
“We may not yet have all the detailed answers of our digital future, but one thing is clear. In 2015, we the people of Sri Lanka embarked on a progressive digitalization of our politics and governance.
“It is going to be a bumpy road – be forewarned — but there is no turning back.”
Since then, things have evolved further. In this essay, I look at how the Elections Commission, political parties, election candidates, civil society advocacy groups and individual cyber activists have used various social media tools and platforms in the run-up to, during and immediately after the Parliamentary Election.
ICTA’s CEO was recently quoted in the media as saying: “For this programme, what we are planning to show people is that every person can become a journalist and contribute towards media organisations. First, taking photographs and videos and sending it to a reporter which will enable him/her to have more information in order to analyse an incident further and report on it…”
If he has been quoted correction (no denial so far), the apex ICT institution of the Lankan government shows a shocking ignorance in its limited understanding of citizen journalism: must they be limited to gatherers of raw material for mainstream media? What about bearing witness, self-publication and countervailing functions of citizen media?
In today’s column, I call it particularly shocking as ICTA now comes under the purview of Ministry of Foreign Affairs — whose deputy minister, Ajith P Perera, was an active blogger for some years and became the first blogger to be elected to Lankan Parliament in 2010. If only this technical agency were to ask its own minister for some clarity before formulating such misguided national programmes…
Yaha-paalanaya (good governance) is not just ensuring a clean and efficient government but also having clarity of purpose and making well reasoned and evidence based interventions to societal needs. ICTA fails once again on this count.
Who were the earliest citizen journalists in Sri Lanka? In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala), I argue that ordinary people expressing themselves in a public space without gatekeepers — which fits the basic definition of citizen journalism — can be traced back to at least 6th century AD. That’s the earliest date for a visitor graffiti on the famous ‘mirror wall’ in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka’s “rock fortress in the sky” built by a maverick 5th century King Kasyapa (reign: 477 – 495 AD).
My Sunday (Sinhala) column in Ravaya this week was on impressions of the National Media Summit 2012 held at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, on 24-25 May 2012. My own talk at the Summit, during a session New Media policies for Sri Lanka, was titled New Media, Old Minds: A Bridge Too Far?.
Who’s Afraid of Online Journalists? This was the provocative title of my presentation to a national media conference on media self-regulation in Colombo in September 2011, organised by Sri Lanka Press Institute. Speaking in the session devoted to online media, I argued that SLPI was ill-equipped to tackle online news content when it lacked even full representation of the mainstream print media in Sri Lanka, and had no representation whatsoever from the radio and TV broadcasters whose outreach far outstrips that of print.
This is the Sinhala text of my weekly column in Ravaya newspaper of 20 Nov 2011. This week, I continue our discussion on Internet freedom: what can – and must – be regulated online, and how regulation is fundamentally different from control and censorship. I insist that conceptual clarity is as important as technical understanding of how the Internet works.