Following the end of its civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka continues to grapple with ethno-religious tensions and conflict, with discourses also increasingly taking place in digital spaces as online social networks continue to evolve. In the age of social media, the cases of the 2014 Aluthgama riots as well as the 2018 Ampara and Digana unrests, suggest how the spread of hate speech and false information online may contribute to real-life discriminatory violence offline. In the context of Sri Lanka’s 2019 Easter Sunday Attacks too, questions have arisen on the incident’s impact, the types of discourses surrounding reconciliation and diversity online and offline, and how online hate speech and false information in its aftermath have contributed to tensions on the ground.
With Facebook being the most widely-used social media network in Sri Lanka, and given its possible impacts on Sri Lanka’s offline reconciliation processes, DRI aimed to understand the Facebook discourse surrounding the Easter Attacks (i.e. actors and narratives) and the platform’s role both as a polarising and reconciliatory space for debate. In order to understand how both negative and positive messages spread on the platform, especially in relation to discussions of religious and ethnic groups, DRI analysed Facebook page and group posts collected over a 16-month period from just before to over one year after the Easter Attacks.
DRI’s analysis shows that in addition to the negative messaging found in the examined posts, Facebook also provided a space for positive messaging following the Easter attacks, including the countering of false information and hate speech.
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