Making War with YouTube: The Technology Battle in Sri Lanka

By Melissa Lafsky | December 15, 2008 6:28 pm

In the wake of near-daily scandals involving billions of dollars, it can be easy to lose sight of the rampant unrest in the rest of the world—including Sri Lanka, the small Asian nation that has been fighting a lengthy civil war. The conflict is between the government and a group of insurgents known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and while the violence has been ongoing and tragic, the fascinating aspect is how both sides are using technology to spin their actions, gain public support, and put down the other side.

Brian Calvert at World Politics Review, who is doing an investigative series on the country’s unique technological warfare, reports that releasing YouTube videos depicting things like suicide bombers has become standard practice for both parties. The government even has a headquarters for its information campaign, called the Media Center for National Security, which was established in 2006 to “disseminate accurate defense-related news within short as possible time, to both local and international media, and then at the same time to counter the LTTE propaganda.”

The insurgents, meanwhile, have formed their own technological strategy, described as follows:

The government is battling an image of the Tigers as underdogs, led by a leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, whose message has not changed in 25 years: The Tamil people face eradication by the Sinhalese majority. There is no salvation for them but through armed struggle for Eelam. The Tamil Tigers are that struggle.

Prabhakaran has taken the conflict deep into the information environment, accessing the imaginations of supporters through satellite links and radio signals, on Web sites and in chat rooms. Each attack and every stunt builds on his message, encouraging the diaspora to send money, spurring weapons sales and keeping the Tigers armed and viable.

While the information depicted in these videos and other online sources may not be factually perfect—journalists “complain that information coming out of the Media Center is impossible to verify and often contradicts equally hard-to-confirm LTTE statement”—it certainly gets the message across, with some videos grabbing hundreds of thousands of views. And for an insurgency like the Tigers, it could mean greater public support, new recruits, and even media attention (in the form of stories like this one) for their cause.

Though whether that translates into military victories has yet to be determined.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science in Wartime
MORE ABOUT: sri lanka, terrorism, war

Comments (119)

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  1. nuwan

    actually the government doesn’t release these videos on Youtube. the videos are posted on government websites and broadcast on national television. Ordinary people in Sri Lanka often record TV footage or download the video from government websites and post it in their Youtube account.

  2. Ridd

    What Nuwan says is correct, the state does not upload videos to Youtube!. The clips are released to the media and uploaded by private individuals like everything else.
    Like lots of other “researcher’s” Brian should put in more work on his investigative series.

  3. Thank you for pointing out that detail – though at the end of the day, whether or not the government uploads the videos itself versus releasing them to the media to upload is a tad irrelevant. The videos are still being strategically produced and shot with a political agenda, specifically for the purpose of influencing public opinion about the war.

  4. Hopekins

    Melissa Lafsky ; you can define its on your point of view. but our is different; its not a political propaganda?; do you think broadcasting US war against Muslims is a political one? They are broadcasting it to the world to know what is going on over there right now.

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