Myanmar Disinformation Profile

From ADTAC Disinformation Inventory

Myanmar Domestic Disinformation

Myanmar Media Environment

Myanmar has a ranking of 139 out of 180 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.[1] Myanmar was led by a series of military dictatorships for many decades during which the state exercised tight control over the media. State propaganda was the primary mode of media and dissent was stamped out as journalists were jailed. After 2011 democratic reforms began and the media opened up however there is a large degree of state intervention in the media.[2][3] The state has a monopoly on telecommunications and the state controls the main broadcasters and publishers.[4]

Myanmar has a 33% internet penetration rate.[5] Facebook is ubiquitous with the internet in Myanmar as many other sites had difficulty with Burmese text and Facebook initially allowed its app to be used without data charges which made it highly popular.[6] Facebook claims that over half the population of Myanmar uses their site.[7]

Politics Versus Entertainment

In Myanmar concerted campaigns have adopted a strategy of gathering an audience via predominantly non-political content for-profit content and spreading small amounts of disinformation or hate speech to reach this large audience. One Facebook take down of 655 pages in October 2020 found that the pages spread predominantly a-political material, but had a definitely pro-military stance and anti-Rohingya content.[8] They used automation and clickbait to attract audiences in the millions.[9]

Anti-Muslim Hate Speech

Hate speech was seen as inciting deadly riots in Myanmar in 2012 and 2014. Hate speech has been spread by private citizens as well as by the military of Myanmar.[10][11] Outlets like Radio Free Myanmar have supported the military and spread anti-muslim sentiments via entirely fabricated stories.[12][13]

Myanmar Military and Facebook

The military of Myanmar has used Facebook for years leading up to the genocide in 2017 to spread hate speech about the Rohingya.[14] Facebook took down 425 Facebook Pages, 17 Facebook Groups, 135 Facebook accounts and 15 Instagram accounts that were linked to Myanmar's military despite being portrayed as independent news, entertainment, beauty and lifestyle content.[15] In 2019 Facebook removed 89 Facebook accounts, 107 Facebook Pages, 15 Facebook Groups, and five Instagram accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior some of which were linked to the military.[16] In 2020 the platform removed 38 Facebook accounts, 15 Pages and 6 Instagram accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior, the accounts were linked to the military and contained both anti-National League for Democracy content and a small amount of anti-Rohingya content.[17]

There may have been as many as 700 members of the military actively working on their campaign against the Rohingya.[18] In February 2021 the military launched a coup, accompanied by a media blackout. The military spread misinformation designed to make it look like Suu Kyi was encouraging protest, however they taken over her party's page and forged a letter by her.[19] In March 2021 Facebook completely banned the military in response to the military's coup.[20]

Youtube Conspiracists 2020

In 2020 in preparation for the election, Facebook worked with members of civil society and utilized AI to minimize hate speech and disinformation. Many actors moved to other platforms like Youtube to spread disinformation. Outlets like Myanmar American News have spread disinformation challenging the integrity of the elections and spreading conspiracies about COVID-19. There are also a number of conspiracies related to Rohingya alleging that they faked the crimes committed against them.[21]

COVID-19 Disinformation

A popular rumor started which stated that onions could be used to prevent transmission of COVID-19, this rumor was later shared by the chief minister of Tanintharyi Division, U Myint Mg.[22]