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Darshana Sumanadasa
Faculty of Law, University of Colombo

Governance is no longer about governments. Non-state actors are heavily involved in setting standards for human behaviours, whether they know it or not. Regulation of the internet, and more specifically, social media, has taken on increased significance in the last decade. For instance, digital media scholars and civil society organisations alike allege that social media, especially Facebook posts may have contributed to increase the intensity of the ethnic tensions between Sinhalese and Muslims during the month of May 2018. Even more recently the same concerns were raised aftermath of the ‘Easter Attacks’ in Sri Lanka. As a result, social media services were blocked or restricted in Sri Lanka by the government for weeks.  Recently, Facebook has admitted that it made a serious mistake by failing to remove hate posts during May 2018. It is true that users can report hate speech posts if they think the content violates the platform’s Terms of Service (ToS). A content moderator may then decide whether such a post violates the ToS. However, first, this process can be subject to criticism because of its hidden nature. Secondly, there is a serious doubt whether and how Facebook could appropriately moderate hate speech posts which are in domestic languages such as Sinhala and Tamil.  From 1983-2009, Sri Lanka was impacted by a civil war, which was the result of ethnic tensions. For this reason, hate speech moderation in Sri Lanka warrants further investigation. Nonetheless, two interrelated threshold-level questions may arise here: (1) how can a transnational-internet-based phenomenon such as social media be governed by national regulation? and (2) how effective for a developing country to ban or regulate social media in the modern technological context where people can easily access to their accounts via a virtual private network (VPN). Thus, is this the end of governing social media by a national government? This research examines whether this problem can be resolved by a joint effort of state, i.e. Sri Lankan Government and non-state actors, i.e. social media companies. It emphasises the need of adopting a balanced approach which is equally concerned with the freedom of expression, responsibility of the social media on effective content moderation and the government responsibility to stop ethnic tensions. In a broad context, this research has relevance for how we might conceive the regulation of content in social media in developing countries affected by ethnic conflicts.

Darshana Sumanadasa is a Lecturer at the Department of Private and Comparative Law, Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He recently completed (2019) his doctoral studies at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). He is an Attorney-at-Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. His research interests include protection of confidential information, restraint of trade and social media regulation.

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