Facebooking in Myanmar: From Hate Speech to Fake News to Partisan Political Communication

Kyaw, Nyi Nyi

Facebook is the Internet in Myanmar. As of 31 January 2019, mobile phone subscription was at 105 per cent, meaning that many people have more than one SIM card. There were 21 million Internet users, amounting to 39 per cent of the population of approximately 54 million, all of them active Facebook users. In contrast, when the present political transition began in 2011, the country’s telecommunications sector was under state control, the Internet was a luxury, and there were only 500,000 Internet users, about 80 percent of whom used Facebook. The number of Facebook users in Myanmar has grown about 53 times in eight years.
On 7 February 2018, the President’s Office established a Social Media Monitoring Team “to protect the interests of the state and the people” from foreign people and organisations that might harm Myanmar. In October of the same year, Myo Yan Naung Thein, secretary of the Central Research Management Team of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), alleged that online trolls systematically defamed the party. Without specifying their identities or naming them, he said, “Those groups are the first to make comments under the posts of the news agencies. Once a news story relating to the government comes online, [they] instantly respond. They seek to shape public opinion and commentary. The team is big and has about 3,000 professional members who received their training abroad.”