STANFORD, California: In the wake of a series of coordinated attacks that claimed more than 250 lives on Apr 21, the government of Sri Lanka shut off its residents’ access to social media and online messaging systems, including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Snapchat and Viber.

The official government concern was that “false news reports were spreading through social media”.

Some commentators applauded the move, suggesting the dangers of disinformation on social media justified shutting down communication networks in times of crisis.

Five years of research on the impact of shutdowns and other information controls on societies worldwide have led me to the exact opposite conclusion.

A diverse community of academics, businesses and civil society groups shares my view. The blackouts deprived Sri Lankans of impartial news reports and disconnected families from each other as they sought to find out who had survived and who was among the dead and injured.

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