Election 2020

Myanmar Opposition Parties Spend Big on Facebook Ads Ahead of Election

By Nan Lwin 18 August 2020

YANGON—As Myanmar’s general election nears, political parties founded by a former general and a ruling party renegade, as well as the country’s ex-ruling party, widely regarded as a military proxy, are flooding the country’s most popular social media platform, Facebook, with ads in an effort to promote their activities and raise their profiles among voters.

Among the parties, the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the People’s Pioneer Party (PPP) led by former NLD stalwart and jewelry businesswoman Daw Thet Thet Khine, and the Union Betterment Party (UBP) led by retired general Thura U Shwe Mann have been the most aggressive in vying for the attention of Facebook users in Myanmar.

According to The Irrawaddy’s analysis of Facebook’s Ad Library, USDP-related pages spent around USD$3,700 (about 5 million Myanmar kyats) from Dec. 22 to Aug. 17 to promote the party’s activities among Myanmar Facebook users. According to Facebook, the library is intended to promote advertising transparency by providing a searchable collection of all ads running on Facebook apps and services, including Instagram.

Among the USDP-related pages, the USDP Women Committee page spent $2,400 from Dec. 22 to Aug. 17 on ads designed to gain the attention of Facebook users, mostly featuring the party’s slogan, activities and campaign promises. Each post aimed to reach about 1 million people and had 10,000 to 500,000 impressions. “Impressions” refers to the number of times an ad is seen on a screen (but may include multiple views by the same person), as opposed to “reach”, which estimates the size of the audience that’s eligible to see an ad, based on targeting criteria, ad placements and how many people were shown ads on Facebook and its related services in the past 30 days, according to Facebook.

The majority of USDP-related ads currently active on Facebook feature videos and photos of U Than Htay, the party’s president. The USDP Women Committee spent $100 on an ad featuring a recent post by U Than Htay marking his 40th wedding anniversary. In the post, the chairman boasted how ethnically pure his family is, including a racist comment asserting that there are “no long noses or blue eyes or curly hair or charcoal-colored skin in my family.” Though the comment was not elaborated on, anyone familiar with Myanmar politics is sure to think of Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose late husband was British and whose two sons are citizens of the UK.

 

 

 

From June 6 to Aug. 17, the USDP Farmers Committee page spent $600 on five posts promoting the USDP’s plan to help farmers. Moreover, the USDP Workers Committee boosted three posts—at a cost of $100 each—to promote the party’s plan to improve the life of blue-collar workers.

The USDP’s chapters in Aunglan (in Magwe Region), Bago (in Bago Region) and Kyaukse (in Mandalay Region) townships also spent a total of $400 to get more attention from Facebook users. Each post aimed to reach 1 million Facebook users.

 

According to the Ad Library, from July 28 to Aug. 14, Daw Thet Thet Khine’s Facebook page boosted seven posts at a total cost of $2,100 to obtain followers and promote the party’s political and economic policies, as well as its activities, organizational structure and so on.

The page spent up to $1,500 to attract Facebook followers from July 31 to Aug. 14 with potential reach and impressions of 1 million each. It spent $100 from July 28 to Aug. 10 in an effort to see the party’s campaign song reach 1 million Facebook users. The pages also spent $500 to boost five posts among Myanmar Facebook users that outline the party’s political and economic policies, and highlight its activities and organizational structure.

Meanwhile, the PPP’s official Facebook page appeared to be sponsored in news feeds on July 31 at a cost of around $500 in an effort to get more followers with a potential reach of 100,000 to 500,000 people and 500,000 to 600,000 impressions.

From Aug. 5 to 8, the page spent another $100 to advertise a live program focused on constitutional reform involving its chair, Daw Thet Thet Khine, vice chair U Myint Maung Tun and associate secretary Dr. Cho Set Thway. From July 30 to Aug. 10, the PPP-Mayangone Facebook page spent nearly $400 to attract more followers or to be seen in newsfeeds among people who live in Yangon.

Daw Thet Thet Khine, the incumbent Lower House lawmaker for Dagon Township in Yangon, aims for her party to unseat the incumbent—National League for Democracy (NLD) Central Committee member and former political prisoner Daw May Win Myint—in Mayangone Township. Daw May Win Myint herself plans to seek reelection in Mayangone Township in the upcoming election.

None of the advertisements run by the PPP and Daw Thet Thet Khine that were seen by The Irrawaddy included a disclaimer. To improve transparency and accountability, Facebook requires that advertisers running political, advocacy or “issue” ads include a disclaimer label that reads “Political Ad” in the top left corner, with “paid for by” information next to it.

The Irrawaddy found that candidates and the spokesperson for the PPP spent a total of $500 on ads to promote their pages on Facebook.

Moreover, a page named “News Place Media” spent $100 to boost a post featuring Daw Thet Thet Khine’s response to criticism that her party had copied the campaign slogan of Singapore’s ruling party.

The Union Betterment Party (UBP) led by retired general Thura U Shwe Mann spent up to $700 on advertisements on Facebook from Aug. 2 to Aug. 17. The posts mostly introduced the party’s policies and candidates. A sponsored post outlining the UBP’s manifesto for the upcoming election is still active on Facebook’s newsfeed.

Moreover, the official account of Thura U Shwe Mann spent $100 from Aug. 2 to 5 to attract more followers among Facebook users with the aim of reaching 1 million users and 175,000-200,000 impressions.

The Facebook account of UBP spokesperson and Central Committee member Daw Su Su Hlaing spent around $500 from Aug. 8 to 15 to boost party-related activities on Facebook with potential reach of 1 million per post.

Despite these parties’ heavy spending on Facebook ads, the ruling NLD’s official page has yet to advertise its activities on Facebook. Nor have other popular parties such as the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP), People’s Party (PP), Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS) or other major ethnic parties based in Karen, Mon and Kayah states.

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