In cooperation with the convenor, Nhu Truong, New Mandala is happy to share a collection of articles based mostly on papers introduced on the Individuals’s Energy and Resistance in Southeast Asia Roundtable on the thirty fifth Biennial Convention of the Canadian Council for Southeast Asian Research. You possibly can learn Nhu Truong’s introduction right here.
Within the digital manifestation of coup-related competition in Myanmar, the army each tasks a picture of itself as championing “true democracy” and reframes resistance actions as harmful for political stability. Alternatively, dissident forces focus their on-line activism totally on anti-military narratives and broadcasting protest actions so as to encourage and mobilise grassroots resistance to the coup. Whereas on-line anti-military content material has been simpler at attracting engagement than pro-military content material, this hole has narrowed over time. This means that dissidents have more and more confronted digital boundaries to mobilising regardless of widespread public help.
Since March 2021 we have now used CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring platform owned by Meta, to gather the 20,000 most viral public Burmese posts from all Burmese-language Fb pages and teams per day. We then created a random pattern of 5,200 posts over 13 weeks, from the start of March to the tip of Might 2021, to acquire a basic understanding of digital competition within the early months following the coup. As Fb is by far the most well-liked social media platform within the nation, inspecting Fb content material permits us to seize the essence of Burmese social media.
Present stories declare the Tatmadaw has actively employed public and covert propaganda to control narratives that body protestors as criminals, so as to flip public opinion in opposition to the resistance and in favour of the army. In our authentic dataset, we discover related content material throughout pro-military pages and teams. This contains labeling Civil Disobedience Motion (CDM) members and ethnic armed teams as riotous; blaming CDM medical doctors for the third wave of COVID-19; spreading disinformation accusing activists of destroying colleges, universities and monasteries, and of attacking harmless civilians; and even framing individuals who withdraw cash from their financial institution accounts as sabotaging the army administration.
Nonetheless, pro-military on-line content material was contained and had restricted affect. Only one% of whole posts or 3% of coup-related posts have been pro-military, and most of those posts attracted below 200 interactions. An essential query is whether or not social media merely replicate a pre-existing lack of help for the army or whether or not, by promulgating quite a lot of voices that debunk army propaganda, these platforms themselves generate larger mistrust within the Tatmadaw’s rhetoric.
In distinction to pro-military content material, most dissident content material highlights resistance actions and army repression. It’s also comparatively prevalent amongst coup-related Fb posts, being shared by varied kinds of primarily political and news-oriented pages and teams. Two NUG-related pages are among the many high 10 pages with viral posts. Six activist teams, three of that are NUG-related, are among the many high 10 teams with viral posts.
Because of this, dissident posts acquired a mean of 1000 interactions. The preferred put up was CRPH’s announcement that they’d kind a parallel authorities, with greater than 300k interactions.
Desk 1. Prime 10 pages & teams with viral posts
Desk 2. Prime 10 viral web page posts
Desk 3. Prime 10 viral group posts
Whereas dissident content material generated extra on-line engagement amongst Myanmar netizens total, two further developments warrant mentioning.
First, amongst dissident posts, content material expressing help for democratic values or the parallel Nationwide Unity Authorities acquired much less engagement on common than posts highlighting army abuses or basic anti-coup resistance actions. Moreover, amongst coup-related content material, posts that point out army crackdown in opposition to activists acquired considerably extra detrimental reactions than others. This means that there’s extra unity round competition in opposition to the army than help for any explicit faction throughout the broader anti-coup motion, equivalent to federal democracy or the NUG. As dissidents and abnormal social media customers can broadcast scenes of army crackdowns and resistance to intensify fashionable grievances and facilitate coordination, this has doubtless led extra individuals to have interaction in anti-coup activism. Authoritarian repression is extra more likely to backfire within the digital age.
The second pattern is extra surprising. We discover that the prevalence of activist content material and engagement with this content material on public pages and teams truly decreased over time whereas pro-military content material and engagement elevated. This could possibly be as a consequence of certainly one of two causes: both lower in public curiosity and help for activists, or the migration of activist content material to personal teams or different encrypted platforms like Telegram so as to keep away from infiltration, monitoring, and arrest. Professional-military customers, alternatively, might have mobilised later and felt comparatively safer with safety from the army.
Briefly, the Tatmadaw’s disinformation marketing campaign because the coup has neither managed to dominate social media nor considerably sway public opinion in its favour. Most netizens don’t belief or help army propaganda. Alternatively, its standard technique of cracking down on activist content material on Fb, by arresting on-line customers who have been discovered to make use of VPNs or put up anti-coup narratives, appears to have curtailed the affect of dissident voices over time. However for now, on-line content material exposing army repression and broadcasting resistance actions continues to proliferate regardless of the specter of arrest. The widespread use of social media by dissidents on this current episode of anti-military wrestle has doubtless facilitated a civil disobedience motion with larger grassroots help than ever—a improvement that the Tatmadaw may discover troublesome to halt.