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FILE- The logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square, March 29, 2018.

People in Sri Lanka are experiencing a second day without access to some of the most popular social media sites within the country, after the government shut down the services in the wake of a terror attack that killed nearly 300 people and injured hundreds on Easter Sunday.

Facebook and its properties — Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger — were blocked. Access to Snapchat was turned off, as was Viper, a popular chat application.

The government said it blocked access to the sites because false news reports were spreading through social media.

Relatives place flowers after the burial of three victims of the same family, who died at Easter Sunday bomb blast at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, April 22, 2019.
Relatives place flowers after the burial of three victims of the same family, who died at Easter Sunday bomb blast at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, April 22, 2019.

A lack of trust

Sri Lanka's shutdown of social media is a "wake-up call," said Ivan Sigal, executive director of Global Voices, a digital advocacy and journalism organization.

The shutdown reflects governments' worldwide growing mistrust of Facebook, Google and other digital platforms during periods of crisis, he said.

"What's different to me is this sense that enough is enough' with the internet companies. The narrative up to three years ago was that technology companies can help us in times of crisis," he said. "There really is a shift in the public conversation of what we expect from technology companies — from a sense that they are positive forces to ones that are more complicated and possibly negative."

Shutdowns are becoming more common after politically sensitive events such as elections, said Peter Micek with Access Now, a digital rights group.

What appears to be changing is that "authorities are putting tragedies such as a terrorist attack or a disaster in the same bucket as politically sensitive events," Micek said. "I don't know how governments can communicate with their constituencies with these media bans in place. They only increase the risks to health and safety."

People who live near the church that was attacked yesterday, leave their houses as the military try to defuse a suspected van before it exploded in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 22, 2019.
People who live near the church that was attacked yesterday, leave their houses as the military try to defuse a suspected van before it exploded in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 22, 2019.

Social media-fueled unrest

Sri Lankans have experienced social media shutdowns in the past. In March 2018, Sri Lanka turned off access for more than eight days after anti-Muslim riots that left three people dead.

The restrictions then were at first accepted by many, said Alp Toker, executive director of Netblocks, a digital rights group based in London that monitors government shutdowns. There was a sense that social media was fueling the flames. But citizens quickly clamored for access to be restored, he said.

"People realized they are attached to the platforms," Toker said.

Facebook's safety check

A Facebook spokesperson said that the company is "working to support first responders and law enforcement, as well as to identify and remove content which violates our standards. We are aware of the government's statement regarding the temporary blocking of social media platforms."

After the terror attacks in Sri Lanka, Facebook turned on its Safety Check service, which asks people in the affected area to report they are safe.

It is unclear if anyone in the country is able to access the site.

Four pages of special counsel Robert Mueller report on the witness table in the House Intelligence Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill, in Washington, April 18, 2019.

U.S. President Donald Trump is continuing to lash out at special counsel Robert Mueller's report, a few days after a redacted version was released to the public, calling it a "total hit job."

"The Trump Haters and Angry Democrats who wrote the Mueller Report were devastated by the No Collusion finding! Nothing but a total “hit job” which should never have been allowed to start in the first place!," Trump said Sunday, adding in a separate tweet that "Despite No Collusion, No Obstruction, The Radical Left Democrats do not want to go on to Legislate for the good of the people, but only to Investigate and waste time."


The 448-page report outlined the findings of the 22-month probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and if Trump . Investigators determined no one on Trump's campaign knowingly conspired with Russia, however they declined to exonerate the president on charges that his actions obstructed justice.

The report describes at least 10 episodes involving Trump and of potential obstruction of justice after he learned about the investigation.

Since the report's release Thursday, Trump has been angrily criticizing it, even as he spends Easter weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

"Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue," Trump tweeted on Saturday. At a a second post, Trump referred to parts of the report as "bulls---," but did not explain more.

Democratic lawmakers

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler issued a subpoena Friday to get Special Counsel Mueller's full report.

Nadler said Attorney General William Barr's "redactions [to the report] appear to be significant," leaving "most of Congress in the dark." The Democratic lawmaker added that he and his colleagues "have so far seen none of the actual evidence that the Special Counsel developed to make this case.”

In a statement released Friday evening, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) called the subpoena "premature and unnecessary." The statement quoted a DOJ spokeswoman as saying the Mueller report was issued with "minimal redactions" and that some members of Congress would have access to a version with fewer redactions.

For months, Democratic congressional leaders had been clamoring for the speedy release of the findings of Mueller's probe into whether President Trump's 2016 campaign colluded with Russia. Now that the redacted version of the report has been released, they are confronted with a choice: stay on the attack or move on. Nadler says he wants Mueller to testify before the committee no later than May 23.

Late last month, Barr released his summary of the report's findings, and said the special counsel had concluded that Trump had not colluded with Russia, but reached no decision on whether he had obstructed justice.

"One thing is clear," Senate leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement, " Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice, while Mueller's report appears to undercut that finding."

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