How protesters in Myanmar get around social media and Internet blackouts

SINGAPORE: Images and movies of protests throughout Myanmar have been broadcast and shared on-line in the previous week nearly instantly as occasions unfolded in the nation, a far cry from the way it was in the previous.

With smartphones in the arms of greater than 20 million folks in the nation, it has been unattainable to stem the movement of information to and from the skin world.

“The potential is that people can communicate, take eyewitness accounts, and then circulate those quickly via messaging, by social media, on Facebook and by the Internet,” stated Professor Gerard Goggin from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University.

Mobile telephones and a increase in telecommunications in the previous decade have modified lives in the nation of 52 million, and now play an necessary function in the present political disaster. A number of main modifications have led to this, specialists CNA spoke to stated.

“Myanmar in … 2021 is plugged into regional communication and connectivity networks in a way that the Burma crumbling from a closed economy and isolation under Ne Win’s socialist rule in 1988 was not,” stated Ms Moe Thuzar, co-coordinator of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak’s Myanmar Studies programme, including that again then, messages and video recordings have been “smuggled” overseas.

Rally against military coup in Yangon

People cowl with plastic in case of a water canon use throughout a rally in opposition to the navy coup and to demand the discharge of elected chief Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb 9, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Stringer)

READ: Myanmar anti-coup protests resume despite bloodshed


While the nation had entry to the Internet since 2000, it was a luxurious few may afford and a SIM card may reportedly value US$1,000 to US$2,000. Still, information and photographs of the Saffron Revolution in 2007 have been placed on web sites and blogs, making certain worldwide protection.

Fast ahead to 2021, and pre-paid high up playing cards for cell phones are an inexpensive and frequent commodity.

The Internet and smartphone increase got here in 2013 when the state monopoly over telephone companies ended. As of 2020, Myanmar has 4 telecom operators and greater than 140 Internet service suppliers. 

READ: Myanmar military raids Aung San Suu Kyi’s party offices as UN slams violence

There have been 22 million Internet customers and 68 million cellular connections in Myanmar as of January final yr, with a Internet penetration price of greater than 40 per cent.

“Myanmar was a closed system, but the last decade has witnessed a dramatic change. International telecommunication operators saw an opportunity and opened shops,” stated Assistant Professor Saifuddin Ahmed, additionally from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

“This facilitated the widespread availability of mobile phones and a lowering of SIM card cost, which in turn enabled the growth of the Internet and social media use in the country.”

There has been an “Internet explosion” and a plethora of Myanmar-language apps are on smartphones now, stated Ms Moe Thuzar.

“Facebook is the important – indeed premier – platform for people in Myanmar to share information and updates, and rally the current movement protesting the unlawful military takeover in Myanmar,” she stated.

Besides the protests, there was a burgeoning civil disobedience marketing campaign with important staff staging strikes.


Social media platforms similar to Facebook proceed to be blocked in the nation though an Internet blackout over the weekend has been lifted.

A communications specialist in Yangon, who requested to not be named, advised CNA that they’ve been utilizing digital non-public networks or VPNs to get around the restrictions and entry platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp.

During the blackout, which was lifted on Sunday, they created SMS teams to replace one another, and known as their kin and buddies from totally different townships each hour to maintain in contact, she stated.

Commentary: A crackdown in Myanmar could spark a humanitarian crisis

Ms Moe Thuzar stated that when the junta tried to dam Internet entry after the coup final week, Myanmar netizens migrated to Twitter, which is comparatively new for many social media customers in Myanmar who’re extra used to posting and sharing in Burmese. 

From Viber and Messenger, many have additionally moved to WhatsApp and more and more, Signal, for messaging.

They additionally broadly shared ideas and strategies on utilizing VPNs to keep away from potential interception or monitoring, she stated.


Police use water cannon to disperse demonstrators throughout a protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, on Feb 9, 2021. (Photo: AP)

“The current movement is country-wide and … because most communication is in Burmese, there is a wider reach, and people – especially the youth in semi-urban or rural areas are as connected to the movement as their peers in urban towns and cities,” she stated.

Prof Goggin stated that the Internet is, like electrical energy, a necessary service by now, and social media and messaging platforms have “really taken off” in the final 5 years or so.

“I think that that combined is a recipe for digital media being an even bigger tool or amplifier, for people’s opinion, for action and for coordination.”


It is a phenomenon that’s seen not simply in Myanmar however the world over, specialists stated.

“Protesters worldwide are becoming tech-savvy and find means to circumvent the government restrictions. We have witnessed this in Egypt, Hong Kong, India, and many other societies,” stated Asst Prof Saifuddin. 

Even when there have been no Internet companies, mesh networks apps like Bridgefy allowed protesters to speak and assist information go viral, he stated.

Protest against the military coup in Yangon

A nurse present the three-finger salute as she takes half in a protest in opposition to the navy coup and to demand the discharge of elected chief Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 8, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

A night protest against military coup in Yangon

An picture of three-finger salute is projected on a constructing throughout an evening protest in opposition to the navy coup and to demand the discharge of elected chief Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb 9, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Stringer)

It additionally signifies that protest actions around the world have been drawing inspiration from one another. Protesters in Myanmar have been flashing a three-finger salute, which has been utilized by protesters in Thailand since 2014.

The gesture, borrowed from the Hunger Games sci-fi sequence, was additionally seen throughout the Hong Kong protests.


A protester in Myanmar offers the three-finger salute. (Photo: AP)

It is one other signal of how the movement of information throughout borders is difficult to cease. Protesters, conscious that they’re being watched around the world, are additionally holding up protest messages in English to speak to a worldwide viewers.

Experts stated that Internet shutdowns are a “crude tool” which have their limits.

“Such blockades can slow the spread of information, but it possibly cannot completely block the information spread indefinitely,” stated Asst Prof Saifuddin.

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