Myanmar Opposition MP Questions Govt Online Monitoring Body

By Htet Naing Zaw 26 August 2020

Naypyitaw—A Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmaker has called on the government’s Social Media Monitoring Team (SMMT) to explain its actions at the national legislature.

The SMMT was formed by the President’s Office in February 2018 to monitor online efforts to destabilize the country. Parliament in March 2018 approved a budget of more than 6.4 billion kyats (US$4.7 million) from the special presidential fund.

A former lieutenant general, U Thaung Aye asked in the Lower House for the body to explain which regulations it applies and what action it has taken against perpetrators. The opposition politician also urged the government to monitor the body to ensure it is working within legal boundaries.

Far from working on its stated objective of curbing hate speech and fabricated reports on social media, the body only targeted the opposition, U Thaung Aye claimed.

“As critical posts about the shortcomings of the government and ruling party have been removed with the excuse that they do not meet community standards, [observers] have raised questions about if Facebook is being politically manipulated in favor of the government,” said U Thaung Aye.

The SMMT was the result of the National League for Democracy lawmaker Daw Yin Min Hlaing’s proposal in 2017 which urged the government to monitor online activity, saying irresponsible internet use could disrupt law and order and corrupt morals.

At the time, the body also attracted public criticism amid fears it could be used to monitor people’s private lives.

The body is reportedly jointly managed by the President’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

The NLD’s central information unit’s secretary, Monywa Aung Shin, angrily responded to U Thaung Aye’s accusations.

“We have never done what he claims. We have been attacked with fake and fabricated news. It is us who were attacked and we have never attacked anyone,” said Monywa Aung Shin.

Yangon-based writer Thway (Sagaing) said she still sees accounts that spread hate speech on social media, and the government has not removed fake accounts that attack minorities.

“The monitoring body should be kept if it is really intended to fight hatred. But if it cannot fulfill its objective, it is just a waste of money,” she said.

The Lower House agreed to discuss U Thaung Aye’s proposal.

According to Internet World Stats, Myanmar had 18 million internet users and 16 million of them are Facebook subscribers in December 2018. It is estimated that Myanmar had over 30 million internet users by this year.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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