Posts share misleading exchange rate in crisis-hit Sri Lanka

A screenshot of a Google currency converter has been repeatedly shared in social media posts that misleadingly claim it shows a genuine exchange rate of US dollars to Sri Lankan rupees on March 31, 2023. But the rate is likely due to a glitch that Google has since fixed. On the same day, official indicators show different exchange rates to the rates seen in the misleading posts.

The screenshot of Google’s currency converter was shared here on Facebook on March 31.

It shows an exchange rate of one US dollar to 236.81 Sri Lankan rupees on March 31, 2023.

“A steep drop up to Rs. 236.81,” reads the Sinhala-language text superimposed on the screenshot.

The caption of the post reads: “Today’s dollar 236.81. Thanks Ranil Wickremesinghe,” referring to the current president of the island nation. The user tagged a fan page created for President Wickremesinghe titled “Ranil Wickremesinghe – The Leader with A Vision.”

Cash-strapped Sri Lanka sought a bailout from the International Monetary Fund in March 2022, as the nation ground to a halt due to foreign exchange shortages that led to fuel and essential food item shortages, sparking public outrage. President Wickremesinghe was elected via a parliamentary vote in July 2022, after disgraced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned from office.

Following multiple rounds of negotiations, the IMF bailout package of $2.9 billion was approved on March 20, 2023.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, captured on April 10, 2023.

The identical screenshot has been shared alongside similar claims on Facebook here and here.

But the claim is misleading.

It is true that Google’s currency converter briefly showed the rate seen in the misleading post, but it has been updated since.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the Google currency converter showing the misleading exchange rate on March 31, and the accurate rate on April 13. The left one was taken on March 31 when there was an apparent glitch and the right screenshot was taken on April 13 after the issue was fixed, both captured by AFP journalists.

A Google keyword search found multiple instances in which Google’s currency converter experienced an error and displayed incorrect exchange rates as seen in Morocco and Pakistan in 2019 and 2022 (archived links herehere and here).

Official data published by Sri Lanka’s central bank show one US dollar was equal to 327.28 Sri Lankan rupees on March 31.

Asantha Sirimanne, a Colombo-based financial analyst, told AFP on April 12: “This appreciation [of the Sri Lankan rupee against the US dollar] indicated on Google only lasted less than two hours and it was not recorded on any currency markets.”

Google Finance’s website includes this currency conversion disclaimer (archive link here): “Google cannot guarantee the accuracy of the exchange rates displayed. You should confirm current rates before making any transactions that could be affected by changes in the exchange rates.”

AFP

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