Web based businesses operating from Sri Lanka took a major hit following the recent social media blackout.
The Sunday Leader learns that several small businesses operating on Facebook and well as others who depend on traffic via Facebook suffered financially.
The Government imposed a temporary ban on access to popular social media websites and platforms following the communal clashes in Kandy.
The temporary ban was lifted in stages last week, with the restrictions imposed on Viber first removed followed by WhatsApp and Facebook.
However, during the one week ban, some popular web-based businesses suffered.
The EPFS Community, a popular Facebook page which has nearly 60,000 members, was among those who suffered from the social media blackout.
Michael Moonesinghe, Founder of The EPFS Community, told The Sunday Leader that several small and home based businesses use The EPFS Community Facebook page to market their goods and services.
He said the ban on Facebook prevented these businesses from marketing their products.
“So many would have had massive drops in their income which many use to live off and to pay school fees, etc.,” he said.
He also said that EPFS is a Facebook based charity organization and raises Rs. 500,000 per month for 25 small and local charities.
“Some of the charities we support include Adopt a Dog Sri Lanka, Boys Industrial Home, Child Action Lanka, Dogstar Foundation, The IDE School, Ma Sevanna Home, Mighty Step Academy of Dance, Navodaya Special Children’s Foundation, Prema Sevana Elders Home, Prithipura Communities, Kandy Childrens Project, socialservice.lk, The Voice Foundation and many others. The ban reduced what we can give them next month,” he said.
Pre-Loved Items for Sale, another Facebook page through which products are sold, also took a hit.
The administrators said that the site sells over 50 listed items a day and suffered when the ban on Facebook access was enforced.
Carol Rodrigo, who runs The Party Patrol on Facebook, said that she lost a lot of business as a result of the Facebook ban.
She said that her business operates from home via Facebook where items are given on rent for parties.
Meanwhile, Suvin Wagaarachchi, Convener of the National Moment of WeB Journalists in Sri Lanka, said that the Government’s efforts in restricting access to social media was an attempt to control optional journalism.
“We, the National Movement of Web Journalist of Sri Lanka, with severe contempt disagree with the decision of the unity Government of Sri Lanka to restrict access to all social media in Sri Lanka. The particular decision is quite contrary to the best options that would have been taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to control the growing issue of communal violence in the country,” Wagaarachchi said.
He said that the ideal solution that should have been taken was to identify the racist individuals that fuel communal violence in society and take legal action against them.
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) had told the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) on Thursday to ensure freedom of expression is protected in future.
In a letter to Austin Fernando, Secretary to the President and Chairman of the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC), the Chairperson of the HRCSL Dr. Deepika Udagama said that HRCSL had received several complaints from the public regarding the restrictions on social media even after the violence in the Kandy District had been brought under control.
Udagama said the Commission recognizes the critical necessity to protect freedom of expression and the right to information as guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations.
“ln doing so, we recognize the need to strike the necessary balance between those rights and maintenance of public order and the protection of the rights of all.”
“While we are encouraged by media reports that TRC has taken steps to Iift the restriction on social media as quickly as possible, we also wish to point out that any future policy regarding the regulation of social media to deal with hate speech must strike that necessary balance so that freedom of expression and the right to information are restricted only within the legal limits permitted by the Constitution and Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations in the larger public interest,” Udagama said.
Udagama also reiterated the urgent need to take legal action against those who are using social media to propagate communal hatred and incite sectarian violence under applicable laws, in particular under the ICCPR Act No. 56 of 2007.
The Government had said on Wednesday that it had taken steps to restrict access to social media tools temporarily during the last few days, in order to curtail the attempts to spread communal violence across the country, misusing the social media in a manner detrimental to the national harmony.
“In a context where the impact that could be made by social media to expeditiously increase violent actions based on racism and religious extremism has been internationally proven, Sri Lanka was able to control the rapid spread of violence by temporarily imposing restriction on social media as an action to ensure the national and public safety of Sri Lanka,” a Government statement said.
However, the President had stressed on the importance of a guided mechanism to prevent the attempts to disturb the livelihoods of people through spreading ethnic-hatred and racism and damaging the image of an individual through false allegations.