*Reader discretion advised: Post contains quoted content which could be considered objectionable or offensive.
Lately, sentiments of violent Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalism have turned into powerful Orwellian prolefeed (From 1984: a constant stream of mindless entertainment produced to distract and occupy the masses), not simply stirring up repugnant chauvinism but actively promoting hate and violence against those who do not subscribe to their novelty Sri Lankan Buddhism. This prolefeed has found a fertile breeding-ground on social media; regional, local, national-level pages belonging to various extreme Sinhala Buddhist factions mushrooming at alarming frequency. Each group has disturbing reach and terrifying engagement by members who post vile, incomprehensibly hateful, racist comments provoking and even on occasion, threatening physical and sexual violence and death.
These Facebook pages have become spaces for free but detrimental expression that demands our action, considering the spate of violence against places of Christian and Muslim religious worship, Muslim-owned businesses and even patrons. These hate campaigns have gained wide, concerning ground on Facebook in particular, where a demographic comprised of (arguably impressionable) young males whose malevolence is commended and egged on unchecked.
The BBS page for example, posted photographs of participants from the peaceful vigil which happened in Colombo last week under the album title ‘Treasonous Savages Who Distorted the National Anthem’ and ‘Enemies With No Race or Religion’ (translated from Sinhalese), requesting members to help identify the traitors. The comments attacking race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality and gender on these photographs which were mostly made in Sinhala (transliterated and text) by members of the Facebook group were truly horrifying.
‘He’s a (expletive) that sells his mother for a living’
‘Tiger prostitutes (expletive)’
‘Nightclub prostitute bitches’
‘May these people be struck by lightning the sons of prostitutes (expletive) devouring this country. This is our country, a Sinhala country, devils.’
‘They are prostitutes with no race or religion’
‘These people haven’t even grazed past Buddhism. They are NGO people. If they were so concerned about the country and Buddhism, where were these (expletive) when temples were being bulldozed? They are just giving (expletive) here, it would be good if they mind their business without getting murdered by the real Sinhalese’
‘These are a bunch of Colombo people trying to be cute. Have they even taken shelter from the rain at a temple? They are trying to teach us religion they should be taken in for questioning to the CID.’
-> Response: ‘Excellent comment. They should be raped.’
‘They look like midgets chased out of South India. There’s not even an speck of Buddhism in them. They look like Ethiopian cows.’
‘Don’t worry I was there when this NGO band protested in front of the Bodu Bala Sena Base. They have even distorted the National Anthem. They are rising to destroy the Buddhist power, but the security forces and the priests of the Bodu Bala Sena intervened and successfully defeated this treasonous, unpatriotic effort. (BBS Monk)
‘(Expletive) if I see you in Battaramulla, I will definitely open up your (expletive), you dog. Be careful when you’re on the road, you NGO cow born to a dog. (expletive)’
-> Response by BBS monk: ‘Help us identify this man’
‘These (expletive) planned this while Gnanasara Priest (BBS monk) was out of the country. If Gnanasara was there these people would have been stripped and forced to run away naked.’
‘Nature will punish these people. When you’re on the road be extra careful, there are big lorries and buses coming your way’
‘Don’t be disheartened by these efforts, even Lord Buddha defeated the Demons. This protest was not done by real Sinhalese, but a flock of mixed-race miscreants. If you need anything priest, we are always with the Bodu Bala Sena’
These comments are a mere sampling of what is being said in response to the photos of the participants who attended the peaceful vigil. Not only was the content aimed at identifying participants in order to orchestrate an abhorrent response on-line (and frighteningly maybe even potentially off-line, given the identification of people’s names and places of employment), the comments unquestionably call for murder, physical violence and rape.
The process of reporting the page and its contents to Facebook appears to be straightforward: The ‘I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook’ option provides you with another to report ‘Hate speech’ under multiple categories of targeting race or ethnicity, religious group, based on gender and orientation, based on disability or disease. While there is no ‘all of the above’ option which sum up the BBS page’s contents, myself and many others have reported this page and similar pages repeatedly. Facebook, however, does not find this reason enough to either issue a warning to the page owners to moderate, clean up the content or have it taken down. Understandably, the content is in transliterated and text Sinhala, which at first glance will not check any hate speech boxes, but does terrifying and unapologetic hate speech only deserve Facebook’s attention if it is in English?
While liberals may argue that shutting these pages down are a threat to the freedom of speech in a country where most freedoms are delusional at best, do these pages deserve space for engagement (and evident indoctrination as far as an impressionable young membership is concerned)? While the admin-uploaded contents do not directly threaten harm to anyone (save for requests to members to help identify so-called perpetrators and distastefully condemn them in captions and album titles), the administrators are allowing rabidly racist commentary to continue, irrefutably violating Facebook’s Community Standards.
While the BBS page was taken down briefly yesterday, today it has returned with English language comments deleted (likely for the benefit of Facebook checks on hate speech), while the Sinhala language content remains untouched. Additionally, when those captured in the photographs reported the content to Facebook as harassment, the social media platform failed to respond to multiple complaints. Meanwhile, these photos are being shared and commented on, rapidly replicated in similar pages, subject to streams of comment abuse, shocking misuse and photo-manipulation. We must be weary of the pervasive and fluid nature of social media, and consider its impacts outside the relative freedoms, anonymity and bravado of the Internet.
Where freedoms have been fought for over centuries of human history, they are not simply easy entitlements won by others long-gone for willful abuse, but must like all rights be tied to responsibilities. Those who do not respect these responsibilities, are entirely undeserving of these freedoms- especially where they are actively encouraging hatred and inciting violence against those who do not subscribe to their beliefs.