Social networks

As many will attest: In Myanmar, Facebook is the Internet. It enjoys supremacy over all other forms of social media, and can be seen in some ways as a digital extension of the teashop culture: A hub of political activity, rumour and gossip. While for much of the world, Facebook is a way to stay connected with friends and family, in Myanmar it is not seen in the same way: Facebook friends are not necessarily people who know each other in real life. For youths, it can offer the opportunity to connect with people they might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet due to prevailing conservative social norms. Hate speech on Facebook has become a widely recognised problem, and in Myanmar where communal tensions are highly combustible, the spread of inflammatory content can exacerbate the potential for conflict to boil over with real-life consequences. The platform (and its Messenger function) has been offered free-of-charge in the past. As with elsewhere in Myanmar, Facebook is often the primary source for news. Within minutes of a news event taking place, information on the subject is often being distributed on the platform — with varying degrees of accuracy and veracity — by different parties. The government has embraced social media with abandon, as these platforms offer immediacy and are suited to a low-resource setting. The Facebook mobile app (due to Myanmar’s now-high digital penetration accounted for almost exclusively by mobile devices) is seen by many as a homepage of sorts, where they will see news from friends, people they follow, and news outlets. Citizen journalist networks and community-based news has become wildly popular. Similarly, the model for traditional news outlets is rapidly being replaced. The barriers to publishing online are near-zero. Some news outlets operate only on social media, and this often comes from an activist standpoint leading to a greater polarisation of views and a tendency toward self-selecting cognitive bias. A number of these Facebook-only news pages are monetising (albeit not in a major way) due to their unique ability to connect with local audiences. When news is breaking, people often turn to primary sources (sharing of content posted by individuals to social media). This can result in the spread of incorrect or misleading information. Twitter has enjoyed a slight uptick in popularity following a suggestion from senior government figure U Zaw Htay that people should join, however it is a tiny minority of the population in Myanmar using it. This is partly due to the constraints of the character count, where concepts are more difficult to express concisely in Burmese. There are also font integration issues. Private messaging channels such as WhatsApp and Viber are used for private networks.