Iraj faces the music over banned FB page | Sunday Observer

Iraj faces the music over banned FB page

Iraj  wants ‘white vans’ back
Iraj wants ‘white vans’ back

Popular singer, Iraj Weeraratne, following the saga of his Facebook page going down on Friday (05), claims that he suspects that sections of the Government had instigated the Silicon Valley based Social Media giant, to block his account for political reasons.

Weeraratne has publicly accused the Media Secretary to the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry, Dhanushka Ramanayake of being involved in the effort to get his account suspended.

Ramanayake, a strong ally of JHU General Secretary and Minister of Megapolis Champika Ranawaka, has vehemently denied the claims. A complaint had already been lodged by Ramanayake with the CID against the musician, for using his (Ramanayake’s) name, designation and picture, to fabricate a Facebook conversation.

Since the communal violence in Digana, Kandy in 2018, the role of Social Media network (which also owns the popular messaging platform Whatsapp), has come under serious scrutiny, for failing to check racially charged content propagated by its users. Calls for the social network to crackdown on accounts propagating malicious content which could incite communal unrest only heightened after the Easter Sunday attacks, when it came to light that the bombing mastermind Mohammed Hashim Zaharan had used the network widely under several names to post racially charged content promoting violence against people of other faiths.

Increasingly blamed for being a platform to spread hate, in Sri Lanka and other countries where ethnic tensions have simmered, Facebook has taken steps in recent times to enhance its regulation of questionable accounts, even hiring local language experts to ‘watch’ activity on its platform. Users report that the network now acts faster, when complaints are made against hate speech.

Iraj Weeraratne is well known for his risqué political statements on Facebook and Twitter. Weeraratne was subject to a severe backlash when he advocated the use of ‘white vans’ to curb a crime wave. During the tenure of the Rajapaksa regime, the ‘white van’ became the symbol of terror and enforced disappearances, while thousands of families in the North and across the island, are still searching for missing loved ones. Witnesses have often reported seeing white vans in the vicinity of the disappearances.

Last week, Facebook categorically denied restricting content and profiles or pages on the platform, purely based on the requests made by governments.

“If a person repeatedly violates our policies, depending on the severity of violations, we would remove that page or profile. Because, we don’t want to create bad sour apples on the platform. However, Facebook sends a notification to that person informing that they have violated the Facebook polices, providing an opportunity to appeal,” a spokesperson for FB affirmed.

“If they disagree with us, they can appeal to us. If they choose to appeal, it will go to an independent team for a second review. If that committee agrees on the violations, the profile or page won’t be restored, otherwise it will be restored with an apology,” he elaborated.

Governments can choose to block the entire Facebook network across the country, but they cannot target individual accounts for closure, social media experts said.

At a meeting convened by UNDP Sri Lanka and Facebook yesterday, Facebook South Asia team reiterated that blocking of profiles/pages happens ONLY when users have violated FB’s Community Standards. Governments are not allowed to take down specific content (all they can do is block the whole platform), tweeted Media Analyst and Science writer, Nalaka Gunewardane last week.

However, Weeraratne’s supporters in the SLPP camp, insist that the block on his account is an attempt by the Government to crackdown on criticism.

“The ban of @irajonline @facebook account is an example of how the SriLankan Govt is manipulating people’s access to info and right of expression,” said Colombo Municipal Council Member, Milinda Rajapaksha who is also Spokesman for Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Facebook reiterates that if a user’s page, profile or post is barred, that is a consequence of the user having blatantly breached the terms and conditions of the website.

Iraj, on the other hand, convening a pres conference, earlier in the week continues to blame the Government. He is calling on President Sirisena to intervene and conduct an inquiry into the matter.

“Upto today, 1,500 pages have been blocked. After my original page with 11,000,000 followers was taken down on Friday night (05), I opened another temporary page that has now gathered 100,000 followers,” he announced. “It was me, today, it could be you, tomorrow,” he warned.

Weeraratne said he has already lodged a complaint with the social media giant, and his lawyers will be visiting the Facebook Headquarters (HQ) , in due course.

However, when pressed for specifics as to what FB’s response has been, and said, “Give me couple of days”.

Locally, Iraj said he had also lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL).

The singer cum artist also suspects that, the fact that he had campaigned and called for the release of controversial Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, is also a potential cause for his account being blocked.When queried as to why he did so, he said, “We disagree and are against a Buddhist monk’s arrest. We consider it unethical.”