NetMission Insight: Struggling on Fake News During the Mass Protest in Myanmar

Written by Phyo Thiri Lwin

Myanmar is one of the countries where millions of social media users exist like all the other countries. As a result, the growing hate speech over the political points of view has increased due to the low rate of media and information literacy. Before the military coup happened, the inner circle of fact-checking culture was small. Facebook is the most popular social media among the general public in Myanmar to deify in their daily life. Therefore, misinformation and disinformation mostly appear on such platforms targeting the general public. One of the examples is the Rohingya crisis in the Rakhine State, majorities of Myanmar people were informed of the bloodshed massacre as fake news by national television channels such as MRTV. On the other hand, propaganda by the political parties on social media during the election is not uncommon either. 

After the military coup in February, daily targeted fake news has increased in Myanmar. For example,  the United Nations declared war on Myanmar four weeks after a military coup (Dunyanews, 2021). The misinformation culture which is known as “Copy & Paste” culture means digital citizen copies and pastes the post shared by their Facebook friends directly to their own timeline without thinking about the legitimacy and accuracy of the piece of information to share it. Another reason for the rise of the misinformation culture is the so-called “PsyWar”

Psychological Warfare (PsyWar) is a planned tactical use of propaganda, threats, and other non-combat techniques during wars, threats of war, or periods of geopolitical unrest to mislead, intimidate, demoralize, or otherwise influence the thinking or behavior of an enemy. (Longley, 2019)

I was once misinformed by some shared articles from some news media outlets with verified blue badges on Facebook because of the difficulties to fact-check information we received in time. By the time they noticed that my friends would delete the content immediately. Noticeably, they are used to share the information of political propaganda from politicians’ accounts with verified blue badges without thinking whether the information shared will mislead people in their community.

During the Spring Revolution, the counter disinformation also spread for covering up some sources of information and for slowing down the online campaign of democratization movement such as posting #WeNeedR2P to reach the targeted hashtag numbers on Facebook. On the other hand, some people used disinformation tactics by targeting to attack the military council and its members. Moreover, the attention seekers also misinform the community to grow engagement on social media.

Youth who play a crucial role in the Myanmar Spring Revolution, also play an important role in tackling this fake news, misinformation, and disinformation. Before the military coup, there were noticeable fact-checking Facebook pages named “Think Before You Trust”, “Real or Not” and “DVB fact-check”. After the military coup, the number of fact-check community pages increased and individual fact-checkers appeared to tackle the hundreds of daily fake news, misinformation, and disinformation. 

Remarkably, fact-checking Facebook pages such as “We Check” and “EDM017 Network” are popular and have contributed a lot to providing reliable information to our society. On the other hand, the media and digital literacy rate of youth have increased because of raising the awareness for media and information literacy and fact-checking through social media. Sometimes, we also receive fact-checked information from freelance journalists such as Mratt Kyaw Thu and Cape Diamond. Moreover, these fact-check organizations and journalists launched their channels on Telegram to provide reliable and fact-checked information to tackle the problems of misinformation and disinformation.

Misinformation and disinformation have created a great impact on Myanmar’s online “democratization movement”, though it is not an issue faced by Myanmar only but by every country. We cannot stop the dissemination of fake news in one day, but we should stay positive and active in tackling this issue by promoting the awareness of digital literacy. To enhance digital literacy among youth, the concept of “Think before you click” should be promoted. This empowers users with the capacity to identify and differentiate misinformation and disinformation from actual information. 


About the writer

Phyo Thiri Lwin is a social science master’s student at the Yangon University of Economics. She is passionate about Internet Governance activities to initiate in her region. She joined yIGF 2020 Virtual Camp and she started her Internet Governance Journey through it. She also participated in the APrIGF and explored to get more about the current issues in the Asian-Pacific Region through it. She then continues her IG journey as a student ambassador at the NetMission Academy 2021 and a youth committee member at Youth IGF Myanmar. She is interested in cybersecurity and privacy particularly. Currently, her interests related to the internet issues are misinformation and disinformation, and accessible internet, which are the biggest concerns in her region. She is also trying to help the people to be aware of those issues and sharing reliable information on the other hand.