Digital democracy Sri Lanka

Report: Social media and Sri Lanka's 2019 presidential elections

DRI Sri Lanka monitored the country's social media landscape during the presidential election, which took place in November 2019. In an effort to understand the role disinformation and hate speech played in the elections, we examined the dominant topics, actors and discriminatory language used on Facebook from the campaign period until the aftermath of the elections.

Facebook is the most popular social media platform in Sri Lanka. Considering the widespread use of social media in the country, more and more public debates are taking place in these online forums. One negative consequence of this trend is the spread of misleading information and hate speech via social media, which puts strains on democracy and can result in tensions and violations of electoral regulations.

In this report, DRI identifies the main narratives of online discourse during the election and the key actors involved in the dissemination of information. The report develops recommendations for Sri Lanka's Election Commission, election monitors, Facebook, civil society organisations and others.

Some of our main findings include:

  • Based on the 3,362 posts reviewed, activity on Facebook pages and groups increased by 310% and 226% respectively, between September and November 2019, beginning from when the dates for candidate nomination and the election were announced.
  • Gossip was widely embedded into posts of groups and pages and often also contained political content which was misleading or false.
  • Pages and groups posting during the pre-election silence period included those posting political content in favour of or against candidates, and in some instances violating election regulations.
  • Posts with negative sentiments closely interlinked with topics relating to religious and ethnic issues, reconciliation, and governance; this further reflected on posts with negative sentiments directed at protected characteristics2 including ethnicity, religion and race.
  • Discriminatory language and ideas based on racial superiority were used in support of and against religious communities, mainly in support of the Buddhist community and against the Hindu and Muslim communities.

Read the full report for more information.


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