President says Facebook is a “disease” in Sri Lanka
Facebook cannot be trusted, but blocking the site would be illegal, said President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday. “This is a disease for us, this is a disease for our children,” he said, adding that there were “ways to block Facebook,” according to Sinhala newspaper, Rivira.
However, he says that blocking the site would be illegal. President Rajapaksa himself has an active Facebook page and a Twitter profile, and recently held a poorly reviewed Q&A via Twitter during his visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
There has been repeated controversy over sites being blocked in Sri Lanka, with, for example, the Colombo Telegraph recently being unavailable for a long period, and al-Jazeera allegedly blocked from view on Dialog TV just before the Provincial Council elections. The government has denied any involvement in such censorship, but whilst Dialog CEO said that the al-Jazeera affair was down to a “technical issue”, he also added that companies “have to be compliant” with requests from the government.
The President’s brother, and Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said in June that social media was a threat to national security, because it can be used to cause problems by “propagating certain ideologies online and mobilising and organising people.” It seems that the President now agrees with him, but aside from being illegal, it certainly would be a deeply unpopular move if any effort was made to ban Facebook, with over 1.5m Sri Lankans using the site, or over 60% of the country’s internet users.
In response to a question by opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chief Whip Dinesh Gunawardena said in parliament today that the government had taken no decision over actions against social networking sites despite the President’s comments.