Unrestrained Sri Lanka social media hate speech seen destabilising markets
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka needs laws to curb hate speech on social media, said Maithree Wickremesinghe, an academic and wife of the country’s Prime Minister, urging citizens to exercise their civic duty to speak up against racism and extremism on platforms like Facebook.
"The Colombo Stock Exchange depends on stability and the gravest threat comes from social media," Wickremesinghe said delivering the key note at a special ceremony to mark International Women’s Day at the Colombo Stock Exchange on Wednesday.
Hours later, Sri Lanka blocked access to Facebook and other social media after police warned that rioters were using social media to spread anti-Muslim sentiment in Kandy. A state of emergency was declared island-wide on Tuesday after days of rioting claimed at least two lives and left Muslim homes and businesses in ruins.
Colombo joined 65 stock exchanges worldwide including major exchanges like Nasdaq in the US and the London Stock Exchange in a global campaign to mark International Women’s Day called ‘Ring the Bell for Gender Equality’.
Ring the Bell for Gender Equality is a joint initiative of the United Nations Global Compact, UN Women, International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank, Women in ETFs, Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative and World Federation of Exchanges.
"In today’s context we need to talk about the community at large," said Wickremesinghe, Professor of English at the University of Kelaniya, and founder director of its Centre for Gender Studies.
"In the last month or so we have seen an aggravated, incendiary and concentrated campaign against the Muslims of our country, and other religious sects, by some openly identifying themselves as Sinhala Buddhist, much against the core teaching of the Lord Buddha, detachment.
"The campaign in not just racist, but it’s also sexist. And most regrettably the campaign culminates in the death of two boys and sporadic mob violence," she said.
Apart from the gangs on the ground, Wickremesinghe says the battle was fought on social media.
"People are creating and sharing opinions often in the guise of news without restraint, and without responsibility".
Laws and law enforcement are not equipped to deal with hate speech and inciting violence, but citizens have a greater role to play.
"There is a balance for a citizen’s right to know with civic responsibility. We have a responsibility to prevent and denounce the promotion of hatred and violence, but we don’t adequately condemn these on social media," she said.
Wickremesinghe commended the ‘Ringing the Bell for Gender Equality’ campaign, but said Sri Lanka needed to look beyond gender equality.
"Many people believe gender equality is about equality for women. I can assure you, that is not the case," she said.
Equality involves accepting the common traits of women and men, and ensuring equal employment, promotion, opportunities and equal access to credit, markets and resources. Equity involves looking at differences between women and men, women and women, and between men and men.
By identifying and targeting these differential needs, interests and priorities that are based on biology, social conditioning, and life experiences, women and men can have better work-life balances and be more productive and innovative at work.
Equity finds strength in diversity, and Wickremesinghe suggests looking beyond gender.
"This may help us transcend from the politically heightened political differences and divisive chasms of today. We need to value and celebrate the diversity in our own identities and those of others," she said. (COLOMBO, February 08, 2018)