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Reporters Without Borders calls for Tamil Guardian’s Instagram to be reinstated

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for an end to Instagram’s censorship of the Tamil Guardian and for Facebook to be “more transparent”, after the news website had its account disabled last month.

“The London-based English-language website is one of the main sources of news about the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and the rest of the world and has more than 19,000 followers on Instagram, and yet it was censored in the most brutal manner, with no prior warning and no explanation,” said RSF in a statement released this morning.

It went on to detail how despite the Tamil Guardian’s efforts to contact Facebook and Instagram, no response was received and despite a 12-hour temporary reinstatement, the account “had simply disappeared from cyber-space”.

“Without the least explanation, without the least justification, Instagram’s managers deprived nearly 20,000 followers of the news that the Tamil Guardian normally publishes on its Instagram account,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We call on those in charge at Facebook, Instagram’s owner, to restore the account at once and to demonstrate more transparency and responsibility in the management of their algorithms. This kind of censorship is completely unacceptable.”

The standard response that Facebook sent to the Tamil Guardian simply said that accounts may be disabled for “violating Facebook’s community guidelines.” No further explanation was provided.

“In the absence of transparency, the algorithms used by Facebook to regulate its social media can be manipulated by troll armies or “social bots” – ghost accounts designed to generate automatic messages – with the aim of getting content deleted or accounts shut down,” continued the press freedom organisation.

The disabling of the account last month provoked outrage across the world, with Tamil lawmakers in the North-East joining parliamentarians in Canada and the United Kingdom in expressing their condemnation.

This disabling of the Tamil Guardian account on Instagram came despite the news outlet continuing to post freely on Twitter, where it is a verified account, and other platforms, with content never having been flagged or removed elsewhere. The newspaper has also never been accused of breaching any laws in the United Kingdom with regards to proscribed terrorist organisations or concerns ever having been raised by British authorities.

Last month, the news website also revealed how Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department had formally written to the social media platform, calling for posts by the news website to be removed.

“We have functioned freely on other platforms, despite the efforts of the Sri Lankan state to stop us,” said a statement from the newspaper last month.

“For many of our stories, our correspondents based in the North-East brave harassment and reprisals from the Sri Lankan security forces to bring crucial insight to the plight of the Tamil people. Our journalists have faced beatings, interrogations and have even been forced to leave the island in the line of their work. Now, Instagram’s broad and blunt censorship has effectively strengthened the Sri Lankan state’s repressive approach to clamping down on freedom of expression.”

“Facebook and Instagram are pandering to an authoritarian state.”

See the full RSF statement here.

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