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We live in an era dominated by information thanks to the existence of social media. Facebook, Twitter and all those networks are flooded with thousands of information which can be accessed by millions around the world. It is good in a way. During the floods and landslides and many other disasters, it was these social media sites which helped the victims connect to helpers.

These websites provided invaluable information and guidance to the volunteers, rescuers and humanitarian workers who were heading towards disaster hit areas. Millions use these platforms to share their moments of happiness or grief by updating statuses and uploading photographs. But there is the other side to it.

These sites are not regulated, and therefore, anyone could post anything on these platforms. There are many who spread hatred and hurtful messages on public platforms which create negative responses from others. Sri Lanka is no exception.

The end of the war has not stopped people from spreading hurtful sentiments against other religions and communities. The recent incident in Gintota is just another example. Online newsfeeds were filled with the assaults and the attacks on the shops. Some people from both communities accused each other for the tensions.

It is easy to trigger someone’s anger by provoking people using racial or ethnic identities. Sri Lanka knows this better. But sadly, the country has not learnt from its previous mistakes. The other example which saw the power of social media happened on November 19, when there were long queues outside petrol stations yet again. Even though there was no official information of a shortage of fuel, rumors of a shortage rapidly spread across thousands of people who panicked and thronged to the nearest fuel station. The queues continued to remain until noon the following day despite several assurances by the authorities that there was enough stock.

The incident not only inconvenienced the public, but also workers in the fuel stations who had to work throughout the night and for several hours in the morning until the situation eased. It was the same social media platforms that played a major role in easing the situation too. Members of the public and a few politicians took to their personal social media handles to inform the public on the actual situation. The above instances are just a couple of examples of how what you share without double checking could affect thousands of people. It is easy to share unverified and unreliable information. But, by the time the truth comes out, the damage is already done. Yes, we have the freedom to express ourselves, but with that freedom comes a social responsibility