Blocking social networks after terrorist attacks can do more harm than good, especially in places like Sri Lanka where official sources are often unreliable (Casey Newton/The Verge)


Imagine for a moment that you run a small country prone to outbreaks of sectarian violence. Terrorist attacks hit a series of churches and hotels in your country on a major religious holiday, prompting fears that violence will spread. Your citizens are using social networks to get in touch with their loved ones and you coordinate disaster response efforts — but they also appear to be using those same networks to plan further violence. It’s your job to bring the situation under control in a way that balance speech rights with safety. Do you leave Facebook online, or do you shut it off?

That was the dilemma faced by Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, when at least 290 people died in a series of bombings. The government decided to take the more restrictive approach: it blocked access to Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Viber, and YouTube. It was the second time in as many years that Sri Lanka temporarily blocked access to social media sites. (Last year, it came in response to anti-Muslim violence.)

To some observers, the shutdown was a welcome move. Kara Swisher writes in the New York Times:

It pains me as a journalist, and someone