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Plotted Landscape by Greg Walters. Flickr. CC

The military coup and civilian response: On February 1, the military in Myanmar took over the country, declaring a year-long state of emergency. It seized control following the general election that was held on November 8, 2020. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy (NLD), won by a landslide in the election. Parliament was scheduled this week to hold its first session since the general election. The new Parliament was expected to endorse the election results and approve the next government. The military refused to accept the results of the vote. They tried to argue in the country’s Supreme Court that the election results were fraudulent and threatened to take action. Hours before the new Parliament was to convene, the military detained Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other top NLD leaders and took power in their hands. Myanmar, which had started a fragile transition to democracy ten years ago after decades of brutal military dictatorship, went back in the hands of the military.

Reports of protests and civilian disobedience have started emerging from Myanmar after the February 1 coup. Staff from dozens of state hospitals and medical institutes have pledged to stop working in protest against yesterday’s coup, in what could prove the first major test for the new military regime. In the capital city of Yangon, citizens protests by beating pots and pans and honking against the coup. Migrant workers and residents from Myanmar in Thailand and Japan have also protested the coup. Globally world leaders and heads of states have expressed deep concern over the military coup. Citizens are also registering their protest by changing their social media profile pictures to red (the colour associated with NLD, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s photos. The NLD has called for immediate release of Suu Kyi and other leaders of the party. Activists have urged citizens to download and use secure communication platforms as a solution to internet shutdowns and potential state crackdown.

A setback to democracy: The military coup in Myanmar is a setback to Myanmar’s decade-old experiment with democracy. The coup is likely to affect the transition of Myanmar to a democratic federal union and efforts to strengthen ethnic unity in conflict areas, and establish peace and development. The work of civil society groups and independent press in building Myanmar as a democracy over the last few years has also suffered a setback with the military seizing power.

The internet has played an important role in both repression and reform. In Myanmar, we see the twin challenges of limited and restricted access on the one hand and flooding of disinformation, misinformation and hate speech on the other. Social media platforms are being flooded with rumours and misleading information; parts of Myanmar also experienced an internet shutdown and bandwidth throttling that has now been restored to some extent. We’ve learned that this situation has caused chaos and confusion with people not being able to access news, reliable information and communicate safely with each other.

Supporting civil society: Meedan is committed to supporting and strengthening the work of its partners and other civil society groups engaged in building peace and democracy in Myanmar. In 2020, with support from Reset Tech, we worked to strengthen the efforts of Myanmar Tech Accountability Network (MTAN), a network of Myanmar civil society organizations coordinating efforts to mitigate the risk of social media induced violence, political instability and democratic downturn in the lead up to the Myanmar 2020 elections. Meedan’s platform Check supported the transition of a manual process of content curation and annotation to a more collaborative and automated workflow using new features of Meedan’s platform, Check.

Documenting, annotating, archiving information: At a time when monitoring online content for rumours, hateful and dangerous speech is critical, our platform Check is available to groups working on documenting the state of emergency,annotating and archiving content before it can be potentially removed or taken down and fact-checking and/or verifying online content.

Supporting fact-checking: As a technology non-profit that has supported fact-checkers monitoring and responding to suspicious messages on platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, Meedan has supported tiplines on these platforms. We can build and launch similar tiplines for groups in Myanmar that are tracking and debunking false claims and messages.

Digital security training: The importance of digital security protocols for civil society groups and citizens cannot be underestimated at this point. Along with our partners we have designed and conducted online courses on digital security for journalists, fact-checkers and students. These courses and modules can be adapted for groups in Myanmar.

Content moderation: Our toolkit on content moderation is an effort to build clear pathways for technology platforms in collaboration with civil society groups and stakeholders in academia and policy. The toolkit is available for use and discussion by stakeholders in Myanmar.

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