Myanmar Election Commission Warns of Fake News Ahead of 2020 Election

By Thiha Lwin 22 January 2020

NAYPYITAW—The Union Election Commission (UEC) has warned that fake and false information pose a threat to the 2020 general election.

“If there is misinformation, it can hamper the success of the 2020 poll,” said UEC spokesperson U Myint Naing on Tuesday at a workshop in Naypyitaw to raise awareness about hate speech and fake and false information ahead of the election.

The UEC says it will organize the election based on five norms of holding free, fair, transparent and credible polls that reflect the will of the people.

“Hate speech and fabrication can negatively affect the five norms of the poll,” said U Myint Naing.

The UEC is holding the workshop jointly with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) from Tuesday through Thursday.

The UEC also plans to work with Facebook, the most popular social media site in Myanmar, to prevent hate speech and fabricated or false information during the election period. The election authority has also drafted a social media handbook for voters.

The number of internet users in Myanmar has tripled from nearly 7 million at the time of the 2015 election to 22 million in 2020. According to civil society election monitors, fake and false information on social media had little impact on voters during the 2015 election period because there were fewer voters on social media.

However, there is greater risk surrounding the upcoming election due to the greater influence of social media on citizens, social network researcher Ko Myat Thu told The Irrawaddy at the workshop.

“It is fair to say that false and fake news can create problems. They can have repercussions,” he said.

Ma Zarchi Oo, the USIP’s social harmony technical adviser, said that everyone must participate in order to hold a successful election, which is critical to the democratic transition.

To ensure people are informed, the commission publishes its activities, announcements and instructions through the state-run newspapers, TV channels, the UEC website and Facebook, said UEC chairman U Hla Thein.

The commission has also been holding press conferences once per week in Naypyitaw to update voters on its activities.

According to the UEC, over 37 million people in Myanmar will be eligible to vote in the 2020 general election. However, the UEC’s list of voters does not include residents of five townships of the Wa Self-Administered Division. Under the previous Union government, the UEC was not able to compile voter lists in these townships and residents were unable to vote in 2015.

The upcoming general election is slated for November but the UEC has yet to announce a precise date. The 2010 election was held on Nov. 7 and the 2015 election was held on Nov. 8.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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