Thanks to smartphones, Myanmar discovers the ups and downs of social media

Metaratings
16 Sep 2015
00:00
Article

ITEM: NPR has posted an interesting piece on the surge of mobile phone usage in Myanmar since 3G services were launched last year.

The subscriber figures are impressive of course – over 22 million and counting – but the more interesting angle is the impact that mobile is having on Burmese society at large.

Among other things:

  • Smartphones are no longer about social status, since just about every household has at least one.
  • During last year’s severe floods, mobiles made it easier for aid workers to locate flood victims.
  • The growth in smartphone use by farmers is helping move Myanmar's agriculture sector forward.
  • Mobiles are also helping to develop healthcare services via services like Ooredoo’s “maymay” app that provides month-specific pregnancy advice and referrals to doctors.

But there’s also a downside: local users are finding out the hard way how social media works – both in terms of privacy issues and information reliability:

People share things online and don't fully understand the consequences, says Kenneth Wong, a Burmese-American author and blogger. "And there are really a lot of false things — Photoshopped, doctored images that I've seen being shared — the kind of thing that sophisticated Web users would be able to pick out as ... illegitimate."Rumors that one powerful monk, Ashin Wirathu, spread on Facebook were widely cited as the cause of anti-Muslim riots last year […]Two people were killed in the riot: one Buddhist man and one Muslim man, according to The Wall Street Journal."The citizen journalism approach that previously would have been unthinkable is now possible," Wong says. "People are uploading videos of evidence of use of excessive force by Burmese authorities. That is the kind of thing that I never would have thought was possible, or people would dare to do, when I was growing up." People share things online and don't fully understand the consequences, says Kenneth Wong, a Burmese-American author and blogger. "And there are really a lot of false things — Photoshopped, doctored images that I've seen being shared — the kind of thing that sophisticated Web users would be able to pick out as ... illegitimate."Rumors that one powerful monk, Ashin Wirathu, spread on Facebook were widely cited as the cause of anti-Muslim riots last year […]Two people were killed in the riot: one Buddhist man and one Muslim man, according to The Wall Street Journal."The citizen journalism approach that previously would have been unthinkable is now possible," Wong says. "People are uploading videos of evidence of use of excessive force by Burmese authorities. That is the kind of thing that I never would have thought was possible, or people would dare to do, when I was growing up." People share things online and don't fully understand the consequences, says Kenneth Wong, a Burmese-American author and blogger. "And there are really a lot of false things — Photoshopped, doctored images that I've seen being shared — the kind of thing that sophisticated Web users would be able to pick out as ... illegitimate."Rumors that one powerful monk, Ashin Wirathu, spread on Facebook were widely cited as the cause of anti-Muslim riots last year […]Two people were killed in the riot: one Buddhist man and one Muslim man, according to The Wall Street Journal."The citizen journalism approach that previously would have been unthinkable is now possible," Wong says. "People are uploading videos of evidence of use of excessive force by Burmese authorities. That is the kind of thing that I never would have thought was possible, or people would dare to do, when I was growing up."

Campaigns have been initiated to educate people about the power of social media, such as a campaign called Panzagar ("flower speech") to encourage Myanmar's Internet users to be aware of the consequences of what they say online.

Meanwhile, with Myanmar dipping its toes in democracy, many people are discovering the power of social media to force government transparency:

People share things online and don't fully understand the consequences, says Kenneth Wong, a Burmese-American author and blogger. "And there are really a lot of false things — Photoshopped, doctored images that I've seen being shared — the kind of thing that sophisticated Web users would be able to pick out as ... illegitimate."Rumors that one powerful monk, Ashin Wirathu, spread on Facebook were widely cited as the cause of anti-Muslim riots last year […]Two people were killed in the riot: one Buddhist man and one Muslim man, according to The Wall Street Journal."The citizen journalism approach that previously would have been unthinkable is now possible," Wong says. "People are uploading videos of evidence of use of excessive force by Burmese authorities. That is the kind of thing that I never would have thought was possible, or people would dare to do, when I was growing up."

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