Free speech and the Sri Lankan political establishment

Freedom of information and freedom of speech has long been adopted by most of the countries in the world. But did we ever really had those?

Let’s set the time somewhere early in the last decade, the concept of social media was still in its infancy and the two basic ways the general populous gather information was TV/radio news and the News papers.

Some of the major TV stations in Sri Lanka was, and still is owned by the state, which means that they were obligated to control the flow of information to fit the narrative of the then ruling party, aka significant section of the political establishment. The rest of the TV stations (maybe except one or two small scale TV stations) were owned by the corporations, which in turn belonged to the political establishment. They had to run the narrative of the political establishment too, be it the ruling party or the opposition. The same applies for the newspapers too. The point is, the people had no unrestricted flow of information except word of mouth.

And though the freedom of speech was in the books, it was hardly ever exercised, because there was a habit of the loudest among them being disappearing. And lack of a robust platform.

While all this was going on, some nerd in a college thousands of kilometers away from Sri Lanka had (or stole) the idea to build Facebook, essentially the general foundation of modern social media and it paved the way for other great social media platforms like YouTube or Twitter. This, represented a shift, a shift in how populations will perceive and interact with information and free speech in the future. This shift reshaped the flow of information handing over the power to people themselves. Information was no longer restricted, speech was no longer censored, people were free to observe, broadcast how they and their fellow citizens are doing and form individual opinions without being censored by the establishment narrative. This in turn took away the establishments’ power to form public opinion at their will, and they have been fighting to regain their power, in the form of government sanctioned censorship on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. And opportunistic blocking of the said platforms.

These platforms are no longer the places just to have fun, they have become vital parts of how we operate and form opinions as a free society, they have now become the breeding grounds for revolutions, be it political or societal.

This is why the recent, so called, “blocking” of some of these platforms is not just a regular act of the government trying to protect its people, the government, together with the establishment, is breaking new ground, they’re testing to see how far they can push populations’ new found liberties without them noticing, without them reacting.. And that is why we should react, otherwise they will push far enough to casually censor the website of the journalist’s opinions they don’t like, or that other platform you have voiced your unpopular opinion on, or the encrypted chat service you’re using because you don’t want to government spying on you.

The truth is, they have already made the tool, we can’t change that fact. But let’s make sure it’s as blunt as possible.