Lower House to Debate Social Media Surveillance

By Htet Naing Zaw 26 October 2017

NAYPYITAW — Lower House lawmakers will debate whether to monitor social media—particularly Facebook—and step up Internet surveillance after a motion passed on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

National League for Democracy (NLD) MP of Magwe Region’s Gangaw Township Daw Yin Min Hlaing urged the government to monitor online activity, saying that irresponsible use of the Internet can disrupt law and order and corrupt morals.

“While the use of social media has increased a lot, [fabricated] reports that disrupt the stability of the state and morals of citizens are spread far and wide on social media. They have caused disruption and also negatively affect the current government,” she told reporters after the parliament session.

She said fabricated reports along with religious and racial hate speech on social media have earned Myanmar a negative image on the international stage.

MP Daw Khin Moh Moh Aung of Latha Township seconded her proposal, saying that “egocentric power maniacs” are deliberately disrupting the transition of government and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi by exploiting racial and religious issues and inciting emotions through the social media.

“A group of people are abusing social media to create misunderstanding between important stakeholders of the country and delay the national reconciliation process. So I support monitoring,” said Daw Khin Moh Moh Aung.

While the country’s democracy is still in its nascent stage, some people will easily sway citizens with low political awareness, which can pose a threat to the country, she argued.

Myanmar Media Council secretary U Thiha Saw said views differ among governments on the control of social media, citing the Chinese government as an example of a state that aims for complete control of social media, while it is unrestricted in most other governments.

He suggested educating netizens to become “intelligent users” rather than controlling social media would be better.

“Will a total ban be imposed or a tax be levied as people are saying? If tax is imposed, few people will use social media,” he said.

“What is important is to use it beneficially. There may also be netizens who use it irresponsibly,” he added.

“According to the proposal, users will have to register their Facebook accounts and it will make it easier to identify those who abuse,” said U Tin Maung Win, chairman of Lower House Communications and Transportation Committee.

He said his committee has not yet received any suggestion about levying tax on Facebook users.

Fellow Asean members and other countries strictly monitor the identity of social media users, but Myanmar has not even been able to register all of its SIM card subscribers, Daw Yin Min Hlaing told the parliament.

U Ye Myat Thu, an IT expert in Mandalay, said: “You can’t control social media like that. What you have to control is the behaviors of the people. Behaviors are influenced by how you grow up and what you are taught at school. It is to be controlled by the community. It is nothing to do with social media. If it is banned, people who swear will find another platform to swear.”

Facebook is the most popular social media platform among Myanmar’s netizens and according to Internet World Stats, there are 11 million Facebook users in Myanmar as of June, 2017.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.