Translocations: A Qualitative Exploration of Inter-Ethnoreligious Relations Among Sri Lanka’s Diaspora During an Era of Social Media-Mobilized Violence
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CitationWijayaratne, Sandhira. 2020. Translocations: A Qualitative Exploration of Inter-Ethnoreligious Relations Among Sri Lanka’s Diaspora During an Era of Social Media-Mobilized Violence. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Medical School.
AbstractPurpose: Sri Lanka has a history of ethnoreligious discord leading to large-scale violence, primarily erupting in the country’s civil war fought along ethnic lines, ending in 2009. Subsequently, persistent frictions have lingered between the country’s ethnoreligious groups, historically between Sinhalese and Tamils, and most recently against Muslims and Christians. Social media has exacerbated these tensions through the dissemination of disinformation, rumors, and hate speech. Such social media platforms have been used both by communities living in Sri Lanka as well as diaspora Sri Lankans. To better understand and frame the beliefs and actions of Sri Lanka’s ethnoreligious groups, this study engages members of the Sri Lankan diaspora in North America to explore issues around ethnoreligious biases, exposure to violence or natural disaster, awareness of mental illness, and social media usage.
Methods: Members of the Sri Lankan diaspora were recruited through correspondence with faith institutions and community leaders. Six members were recruited for four interviews, which represented Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher, and Moor ethnicities, and Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist religions. Through semi-structured individual and group interviews, diaspora members answered questions about their perceptions of the situation in Sri Lanka and how it relates to the situation in their diaspora Sri Lankan communities, particularly around the issues of ethnoreligious biases, exposure to violence or natural disaster, awareness of mental illness, and social media usage. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. The interview transcripts were analyzed for shared and conflicting themes across participants.
Results: Interviewees represented a mix of opinions regarding the content and form through which ethnoreligious tensions are being felt today. The majority of participants use social media and are aware of how it has been utilized to spread disinformation against minority groups in the recent past. All participants know of individuals affected by physical trauma related to Sri Lanka’s history, but not all were aware of mental illness within their communities. Many responses reflected each other across ethnoreligious lines, but each from a particular angle.
Conclusions: Despite sharing commonalities in viewpoints across different ethnoreligious groups in Sri Lanka’s diaspora, more dialogue is needed between groups to meaningfully untangle tensions. News shared through family and social media is not necessarily regarded as accurate. Less stigma around mental illness and more insight into how Sri Lanka’s history and culture have contributed to poor mental health are needed.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37364909