Saturday, February 22, 2014

Facebook ban in Sri Lanka? - The Great Traditional Media Conspiracy

"Student commits Suicide over a Facebook photo" | "Facebook love ends in Death" | "Man kills wife over a Facebook status (USA)" | “Facebook නිසා තවත් මරණයක්” (Hiru FM News) |

These are some of the headlines in Sri Lankan newspapers and TV/Radio news over the last couple of weeks. This morning I spotted this poster for ‘Irudina’ Sinhala newspaper, with the headline “ෆේස් බුක් තහනම් කරනු!” (Ban Facebook!).

All of a sudden, there is a huge increase in number of mass media content highlighting the bad side of Facebook and Social Media. If you look at these stories, the local media is highlighting the "Facebook" part of the story as the ‘news’, but undermine the social, cultural, and political factors leading to those sad incidents . 

Even before the Facebook era, people committed suicide over broken love affairs. Even before Facebook era, students committed suicide after facing a problem at school. Regardless of whether the person committed suicide over broken love affair started through Facebook or Sri Lanka Post (the most popular method of communication between lovers about 20 years ago!), the cause of the suicides remains to be "broken love", not Facebook or Sri Lanka Postal Department. If someone builds a logic, Facebook should be banned in Sri Lanka due to those suicide cases, and then we should have started it by banning postal service, SMS, telephone, and all sorts of communication. Wait; let’s start banning love and sex all together!

Even in the case of unfortunate incident of a female student committing suicide in Kurunegala, the cause of the suicide remains to be the student's inability face life's challenges with a strong character and a personality. I would put the blame on her parents, her teachers (not the principle alone!), and Sri Lanka’s education system as a whole, for not paying enough attention of developing strong personalities and character among teenagers in this country.

Then, why suddenly the media is making such a big noise about these incidents and painting a negative picture among general public about Facebook? Let’s get to the point of my topic.
It is unavoidable that Social Media is going to take over the dominance in the way we source information. This power, once used to be in the sole control of few press publication owners and TV channel owners in this country is now shifting towards the general public. Anyone with a Facebook account now can become a journalist. You don’t have to go after a national newspaper or a TV channel anymore, to get your voice heard. When this power of disseminating information shift from few individual sources to a mass population, the economic and political benefits enjoyed by those media station owners get threatened. These traditional media institutions and journalists, who once had a powerful role to play in shaping the public opinion of the people of this country, are now becoming powerless when you and I can easily challenge their manipulated media stories. In short, their ability to “make or break kings” is now getting questioned. 

That’s the political side of it. What about the economic factor? TV and Press advertising are two of the most expensive things to afford by any advertiser in Sri Lanka. The prices are highly inflated with bogus circulation figures and research data. With the growth of internet in Sri Lanka, now the people are shifting their attention from TV and Newspapers to these up and coming new media. These new channels of communications get captured easily in research data, and advertisers start shifting their budgets from traditional forms of advertising to these new forms of marketing. When traditional media houses cannot take the competition, they feel threatened and attack new media as evil.
If you were born before 1980, you would probably remember how much of a resistance newspapers and Cinema industry had against TV, during the 80’s. Every weekend, you will see newspaper stories like “Child kills himself trying to mimic MacGyver” or “Sensual scenes of Robin Hood kissing Lady Marion spoils the young kids”. The message they used to communicate was, “TV is evil”. That was the battle between press and TV in the 80’s. Now, TV and press are in the same camp and executing the same agenda against Social Media.

All in all, I foresee there is serious censorship along the way for Social Media in Sri Lanka. In a way, some of the users of Social Media should take part of the blame for abusing the freedom of speech on Social Media. In one of the Refresh Colombo sessions, I talked about ‘monkey with a razor blade’. Listen to what I had to say 3 years ago about what is going to happen to us, if people don’t use Social Media in a safe and responsible manner.

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