Commonwealth Expert Team on social media use during presidential election

The Final Report on 2010 Presidential Election in Sri Lanka by the Commonwealth Expert Team issued on 15th February 2010 interrogates briefly the use of social media during the campaign,

This election campaign saw the two main candidates and their supporters make wide use of social media sites such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, as well as unsolicited SMS messages and pre-recorded phone messages. Although the reach of social media websites is generally limited to Colombo and a few of the larger towns, and primarily confined to a younger, English-literate demographic, both candidates enthusiastically reached out to this group of voters, many of whom were likely first time voters.

In a less positive development, websites were also used by supporters of President Rajapaksa and, to a lesser extent, General Fonseka, to spread defamatory allegations and rumours about their candidate‟s opponent. There were reports that websites masquerading as official Sarath Fonseka websites had published negative allegations about the candidate, while it was reported on 23 January that the UNP website had been hacked into and fake opinion poll results predicting a loss for General Fonseka had been published. A variety of unsubstantiated rumours, including about the house arrest of the Commissioner of Elections, were also spread the day after the election, while the initial results were being announced. This was done via SMS, with the possible intent of inflaming emotions.

Sumaiya Rizvi in the Daily Mirror also covered the use of social media during the campaign. What on page 13 of the report getting only passing reference – the unsolicited SMS’s from the President received during January – is covered in more detail on Groundviews in The Shocking Behaviour of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka.

I have also flagged the incredible abuse of media by the government during the campaign in an article published on Index on Censorship. See Media abuse in Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election.

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