Myanmar has been a technologically backwards authoritarian state for much of the past 50 years, with less than 1% of the country connected to the net, until 2015, when the country held its first elections in decades, a moment that was swiftly followed by a relaxation in telcoms controls and widespread access to the internet via mobile devices.
50,000,000 people are now able to get Facebook, in other words. The net has delivered a complex basket of social changes, among them a revival of the country's ugly, murderous history of ethnic cleansing, fueled by blood libels about minority Muslims attacking the Buddhist majority. The new incitements to violence are travelling hand in hand with news about Trump and his promise to end Muslim migration into the USA. Trump's election is being used to normalize and justify ethnic cleansing movements in Myanmar ("We should do like America and do it here too. No more Muslims!").
As was the case in earlier eras of the internet's history, these new users equate the net with the service they use the most (once it may have been "Netscape" and "the net"; then "the web" and "the net"; then "Google," etc) — they use "Facebook" and "internet" interchangeably. This is due to increase, as Facebook has sold the carriers on its "Free Basics" system — a net discrimination deal with the mobile carriers, who take bribes from Facebook to exempt the company (but not its rivals) from their data-caps.
The racist extremists in Myanmar are using Facebook to forge alliances with xenophobic movements elsewhere in the world.
Sheera Frenkel's piece on the rise of Facebook, the internet and xenophobia in Myanmar is a fascinating and detailed look at the complex and often unique circumstances of the country's high-speed entry into the networked world: from the division in the kinds of script used to represent written Burmese to the legal crackdown on parodists who attain notoriety by shooping politicians' heads onto Hollywood stars' bodies.
Wirathu rose to prominence as part of a group of extremist monks once known as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, and then the "969" movement. Today, they are called Ma Ba Tha, after their Burmese acronym. Since the end of military rule, monks have assumed an increasingly public role in the largely Buddhist country. Wirathu, and the Ma Ba Tha movement, have denied any role in the Buddhist lynch mobs, which, in recent years, have killed more than 200, and displaced more than 150,000 of the country's Muslims, who make up roughly 4% of the total population. Civil society groups allege that the state's security forces have fomented recent outbreaks of violence against the Rohingya. But there is no denying that Ma Ba Tha's bashing of Muslims as "cruel and savage" is often repeated by those who want to see all Muslims expelled from Myanmar — and they admit that their anti-Muslim stance has gained its largest following through Facebook.
This week, following news that Trump's administration was being staffed with hardliners, Wirathu released a statement hailing Trump's White House as a victory in the fight against "Islamic terrorism."
"May US citizens be free from jihad. May the world be free of bloodshed," Wirathu wrote in a public statement. It was one of many Trump received from figures across the world who appeared to feel emboldened by his win.
This Is What Happens When Millions Of People Suddenly Get The Internet
(via Beyond the Beyond)
(Image: Minzayar Oo/BuzzFeed News)