(P23) Digital Media, Democracy, and Exclusion in Myanmar
Wed 16:30-18:00 K10 | 2.40
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Digital Land for Sale: Making Markets on Myanmar Facebook
Courtney Wittekind Harvard University
Hilary Faxon University of California, Berkeley
Digital platforms such as Zillow, Craigslist and Airbnb have changed the way property is sold, rented, regulated and valued in the Global North. Yet less is known about how digital tools shape property markets in Southeast Asia. Drawing on digital and in situ ethnography, we explore how buyers, sellers and brokers use digital platforms—specifically, Facebook—in Myanmar’s emerging land market. We argue that Facebook plays a key role in enacting a new kind of market, one characterized by volatility and speculation and reliant not on personal trust but on public affirmations of individual investments. Land has long been a deeply contested issue in Myanmar, tied to racialized exclusion and economic inequality over a half-century of military rule. While technically illegal, buying and selling land has long occurred on the black market, but Facebook land sales took off in the latter part of Myanmar’s democratic decade, facilitated by economic growth, new property regulations, and the arrival of the internet. We trace the boom and bust cycles of the 2020-2021 online land market through a period of international investment, political crisis, and pandemic emergency and show that potential buyers, sellers and brokers use Facebook not only to assemble land as available and desirable, but also to establish their credentials, share expertise, and connect with clients—online acts that collectively function to posit, and propel, market trends. Our analysis highlights the ways in which Myanmar people creatively reappropriate digital tools, while also raising questions about the future of land, wealth, and exclusion after the coup.
Empowering or endangering minorities? Facebook, language, and identity in Myanmar
Myat The Thitsar University of Massachusetts Lowell
Language policies play a major role in ethnic conflict because they affect the right of speakers to choose and use their preferred language(s), and help determine courses of action to maintain, assert or defend such rights. There has been insufficient analysis on the role of social media, particularly Facebook, in strengthening or undermining the survival of minority languages and collective identity in multi-ethnic countries. This paper uses Myanmar as a case study to demonstrate the extent to which Facebook language policies influence language use practices of minorities in Myanmar. While Facebook’s selection of Burmese as a ‘Facebook language’ has privileged the use of Myanmar’s majority language at the expense of its minority languages, it has simultaneously provided opportunities for ethnic minorities to preserve and promote their languages and cultures.
Hate Speech on Digital Streets
Win Win May Myanmar Youth for Peace Development
In a plural society with a fragile democracy like Myanmar, while freedom of expression has yet to find solid ground, hate speech targeting various communities has already taken root across the country. Previous research has identified that the impact of hate speech is not limited to the domain of religion, however there is little existing knowledge on the patterns of hate speech against different identities beyond religion in Myanmar. This report provides original insights on the context and impact of hate speech during the run up to the 2020 General Elections, inclusive of all vulnerable groups across the country. We conducted key informant interviews and focus group discussions with 83 respondents in Mandalay, Taunggyi (Shan state), and Hpa-an (Kayin state). Simultaneously, we performed qualitative coding and analysis of over 4000 comments from about 500 public Facebook pages and groups of politicians, influencers, media, activists, and government bodies. Findings revealed that hate speech is proliferating both online and offline in Myanmar, usually spiking in the wake of certain contentious events. We find that certain actors intentionally spread hate speech that was later picked up by the general public, reverberating across the internet. We built a hate speech lexicon, categorizing five types and targets: general, religion, ethnic issue, political party, and others such as women, foreigners, journalists and activists. In addition, we observed both an increase and emergence of new types of hate speech during the COVID-19 global pandemic
Myanmar’s Digital Coup
Htaike Htaike Aung Myanmar ICT for Development Organization
Description: Since the military coup on 1st February 2021, the digital space in Myanmar has become one of the main targets of oppression by the military junta. The military junta had used different tactics to stop the anti-coup movement from organizing and mobilization. It ranges from internet shutdowns, internet censorship, surveillance, misinformation, and social media monitoring. The presentation will be looking at the aspect of the digital dictatorship which parallels the coup, the digital risks, challenges, and different ways of resistance by the anti-coup movement.
The Rise of Online Censorship and Surveillance in Myanmar
Khin Khin Digital Rights Activist
Myanmar has been in the process of transitioning to civilian rule for nearly a decade. In 2010, the country held its inaugural election after fifty years of military control. Two years later, millions of people gained access to the internet for the first time when operating licenses were issued to foreign telecommunication companies. Yet the long-awaited move to widespread connectivity came with complications. Few laws existed at the time to ensure online privacy or freedom of expression, and this lack of legal protection persists today - giving government authorities and members of the military free reign to harass, censor, and surveil at will. In 2020, amidst this uncertain legal landscape, the study analyzed various surveillance and censorship tactics currently in use by the authorities in Myanmar in an effort to shine a light into this otherwise opaque system. It finds, first, that the government of Myanmar finances surveillance technologies, with approximately 4 million USD (6,190 million kyats) designated to implement a Lawful Interception System for 2019-2020; second, that 79% of surveyed human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and researchers do not feel secure online due to high levels of intimidation and physical surveillance; and third, that 45% of those surveyed that work in rights-related fields acknowledge that they engage in online self-censorship to avoid harassment from authorities. This heightened level is attributable to fears related to, and experience with, social media monitoring and surveillance.
Myanmar has become an archetypal case in the global debate over the emancipatory possibilities and repressive practices of digital connection. Social media both reflected and shaped Myanmar’s contested democratic transition: internet access increased astronomically in the wake of telecoms privatization in 2014 and Facebook has become a key platform for politics, information and hate speech. In the wake of the 2021 military coup, the internet has become a key domain for democratic mobilization, as well as authoritarian censorship and surveillance. This panel brings together scholars and scholar-activists working on the urgent topic of social media in Myanmar. We prioritize grounded perspectives that embed analysis of online practices in Myanmar’s longer political and cultural histories.