Sri Lanka blocks social media for third time in a month

Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Viber, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger, and later also Twitter have been blocked again in Sri Lanka as of Monday 13 May 2019, according to real-time network measurement data from the NetBlocks internet observatory.

NetBlocks data show that leading internet providers Sri Lanka Telecom, Dialog Axiata, Mobitel, Etisalat and Airtel have implemented the restrictions, which is ongoing as of the latest update at 1:10 a.m UTC (6:40 a.m. local time) Tuesday 14 May. The disruption is the third nationwide censorship order deployed by Sri Lanka in the span of one month. Snapchat and Twitter remain available on certain providers, as detailed below.

Similar blocks were recently implemented on April 21 following a series of deadly terror attacks, and again on May 5 amid tensions in Negombo. The complete set of blocked communication platforms varies by provider, as indicated by the reachability chart.

One of the providers, Dialog Axiata, issued a public announcement via its Twitter account notifying users of the censorship measure, hours before moving to block Twitter itself:

VPN services currently remain available to internet users in contrast to the first disruption in April when VPN (Virtual Private Network) services were also restricted, making it difficult for users to circumvent the restrictions. Twitter, Telegram, VK, LinkedIn and social platforms less popular in Sri Lanka initially remained available as during previous incidents.

However, Twitter was also subsequently blocked by leading internet provider Dialog Axiata at 4:20 p.m. UTC (9:50 p.m local time), later joined by Airtel:

Network data shows leading Sri Lanka ISP has blocked Twitter, although it remains available via other providers
Sri Lankan ISP Dialog Axiata has now also blocked Twitter, which had been available during the previous nationwide censorship incidents

The initial findings were drawn from a set of 5,000 NetBlocks internet performance measurements collected from 30 vantage points across Sri Lanka in addition to a larger global control data set, providing an accurate and representative view of network performance and service reachability via multiple internet service providers.

Each NetBlocks web probe measurement consists of latency round trip, outage type and autonomous system identity aggregated in real-time to assess service availability and performance in a given country.

During the previous disruptions in April and early May concerns were raised over the impact to citizens’s ability to communicate and impart information in the midst of crisis. Sri Lankan internet users reported difficulty checking on friends and family in the days following the attacks and the blanket ban sparked a global debate about online censorship and the role of social media in society.

Sri Lanka also previously blocked social media in March 2018, for over a week after violence broke out in March 2018. In that instance, research conducted with the Sri Lanka Internet Society chapter highlighted the unanticipated social, technical and economic impacts of protracted digital blockades.


Methodology

Internet performance and service reachability are determined via NetBlocks web probe privacy-preserving analytics. Each measurement consists of latency round trip time, outage type and autonomous system number aggregated in real-time to assess service availability and latency in a given country. Network providers and locations are enumerated as vantage point pairs. The root cause of a service outage may be additionally corroborated by means of traffic analysis and manual testing as detailed in the report.


NetBlocks is an internet monitor working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives to deliver a fair and inclusive digital future for all.

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