3 March 2016, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is pleased to release ‘Voting in Hate’ – a study of online hate speech surrounding Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary Election of 2015, authored by Roshini Wickremesinhe and Sanjana Hattotuwa. It is the latest of a series of studies published by CPA exploring the growth and effects of the phenomena of hate and dangerous speech on social media.
The 2015 Parliamentary Election witnessed social media as a key tool for political campaigning and election related activity. Facebook emerged the most used social media platform. Unsurprisingly, the relatively unshackled freedom of expression found in social media also invited unchecked expressions of hateful and defamatory material targeting candidates.
What effect, if any, did such alarming expressions of hate have on the outcome of the election? What effect, if any can it have on our society desperately in need of disentangling itself from the bonds of racist, extremist, and sexist divisions?
CPA’s new report examines 11 Facebook groups appropriated to promote hate speech thinly veiled as political speech, targeting political parties and candidates based on their ethnicity, religion or gender. The study covers a period of one month prior to the date of the 2015 Parliamentary Election on 17th August. English translations of relevant posts and responses as well as the original material posted to the groups (both text and visuals) are included.
It also looks at lessons learned from this experience for the future, in grappling with online spawning of hate speech and its effect on a growing following of youth, as well as challenges and implications of social media driven election campaigning which need to be addressed by the state, candidates and society at large.
Translation of the Executive Summary is available in Sinhala. Tamil translation will follow soon.