Blocking social networks after terrorist attacks can do more harm than good

Sri Lankan security forces secure the area around St. Anthony’s Shrine after an explosion hit St Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade on Sunday in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Imagine for a moment that you run a small country prone to outbreaks of sectarian violence. Terrorist attacks hit a series of churches and hotels in your country on a major religious holiday, prompting fears that violence will spread. Your citizens are using social networks to get in touch with their loved ones and you coordinate disaster response efforts — but they also appear to be using those same networks to plan further violence. It’s your job to bring the situation under control in a way that balance speech rights with safety. Do you leave Facebook online, or do you shut it off?

That was the dilemma faced by Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, when at least 290 people died in a series of bombings. The government decided to take the more…

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