Sri Lanka bombings: Facebook warns social media block is preventing families from reaching loved ones

The social media block is preventing families from reaching loved ones in Sri Lanka.
The social media block is preventing families from reaching loved ones in Sri Lanka. Photo credit: Reuters

Facebook says Sri Lanka attempting to block its platform could prevent families trying to get in touch with their loved ones.

The Sri Lankan government attempted to clamp down on the circulation of misinformation during and after the Easter Sunday attacks that killed 290 people at churches and luxury hotels across the country.

Sri Lanka's Ministry of Defence issued a statement on Sunday saying the government had "taken steps to temporarily block all the social media avenues until the investigations are concluded".

But the social media giant is continuing to provide its service in Sri Lanka, despite the block.

A spokesperson for Facebook said the company is "committed to maintaining our services".

"People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and we are committed to maintaining our services and helping the community and the country during this tragic time."

Some social media users have reported they were still able to communicate with friends and family on other apps, such as Snapchat and WhatsApp.

Sanjana Hattotuwa, a researcher based in the capital Colombo whose thinktank Centre for Policy Alternatives partners with Facebook, told the Sydney Morning Herald they have been working at "breakneck speed" over the last 48 hours in order to monitor, identify and report harmful Facebook content.

"It was a very volatile situation on the ground and it required the greatest care that social media did not inflame pre-existing hate against specific communities," he said. "[Facebook] constantly asked whether this content or that post was going to lead to imminent harm."

Facebook has faced heavy criticism following the Christchurch terror attack over its moderation of content.

The footage was live on Facebook for 17 minutes, and stayed there for another hour. The stream was then re-uploaded successfully to the social media site more than 1.5 million times.

Hattotuwa said Facebook was "floundering" in Sri Lanka, due to the volume of content, and the limitations on its algorithms.

"In countries like Myanmar and Sri Lanka, our languages aren't spoken anywhere else in the world," he said.

Unverified information about the perpetrators has been spreading throughout the social media site in Sinhalese, one of Sri Lanka's native languages.