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An excerpt from Advox research on digital authoritarianism in Myanmar

Originally published on Global Voices

Image courtesy Ameya Nagarajan

Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked or digital authoritarianism. This extract is of the executive summary of the report on Myanmar, from the series of reports to come out of the research under the Unfreedom Monitor. Read the full report here.

The classic debate about whether technology is neutral or not has continued to be widely discussed in the 21st century. Alongside the rise of authoritarianism in general, digital authoritarianism has become a phenomenon of note throughout the world. This report is going to explore characteristics of digital authoritarianism in Myanmar. First, in order to provide the political context of Myanmar, a brief history of democratisation of the country is discussed. After that, the political aggressions that came along with the military coup in 2021 are explained in detail.

Then, the report analyses the situation of digital authoritarianism in Myanmar, discussing the oppressive behaviour of the government in cyberspace at length. There are five categories of digital repression of the Myanmar military: internet shutdowns, online censorship, surveillance, targeted persecution of online users, and social media manipulation and disinformation. Against this backdrop comes the digital resistance to the dictatorship by the people of Myanmar through circumvention, migration to and from platforms, and innovative crowdfunding initiatives by the resistance, among others.

The intent of this report is to provide a general understanding of digital authoritarianism in Myanmar amid the political unrest as well as a sense of technology’s role in repression by and resistance to a dictatorship.

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By learning about both the repression and resistance sides of Myanmar’s Spring Revolution, it is evident that digital technology is playing a critical role in this revolution. The military is using every possible technology to repress people, inject fear into society and manipulate it. The revolutionists are also employing digital technology to circumvent the restrictions of the military and to employ innovative ways to build the state. The digital resilience of its society will be one of the determining factors of the revolution of Myanmar. This scenario of digital repression is one of the many manifestations that indicate that cyberspace has become a new sovereign territory different from land, sea and air. Information freedom,
internet freedom, digital literacy, and media literacy cannot be taken for granted anymore as they now have an impact on people’s physical and digital survival. Therefore, Myanmar’s ongoing revolution to fight against the military’s dictatorship is not just physical anymore — the fact is that whoever harnesses the power of technology in the right way will become the game changer of the revolution.

Read the full report here.

The Unfreedom Monitor

Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked or digital authoritarianism.

Download a PDF of the Myanmar report.

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