Twitter Chief Attacked, Praised for Endorsing Travel to Myanmar

By Nan Lwin 10 December 2018

YANGON—Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent tech billionaires, found himself caught up in Western criticism of Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis on the weekend after tweeting about a powerful meditation experience he underwent in Mandalay Division last month. Dorsey spent 10 days in isolation in a cave and on a concrete floor undergoing a course of meditation so strict that even eye contact with others was forbidden. His account of the profound nature of the experience and his endorsement of Myanmar as a travel destination were quickly slammed as insensitive to the Rohingya’s plight, however.

On Sunday, Dorsey shared a series of 17 tweets with his 4 million followers about a birthday trip he took to Myanmar in November. The Twitter founder visited the Dhamma Mahimã Vipassana Center in Pyin Oo Lwin, where he took part in a silent retreat to “hack the deepest layer of the mind and reprogram it”. His visit to Myanmar took him to Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan.

Sharing details of his meditation journey, Dorsey wrote that, “Myanmar is an absolutely beautiful country. The people are full of joy and the food is amazing.”

“If you’re willing to travel a bit, go to Myanmar,” he tweeted.

Not everyone in the Twittersphere was impressed, however. After Dorsey’s interactions with followers who shared their own meditation stories, critics rushed to accuse him of being “tone-deaf” for failing to describe the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority in northern Rakhine state.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 as a result of clearance operations by the Myanmar military in the wake of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on military and security outposts in northern Rakhine State. The UN has described the operation as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Dorsey’s promotion of Myanmar as a tourist destination drew over 2,000 critical comments. Andrew Stroehlein, Human Rights Watch’s European Media Director, tweeted, “I’m no expert on meditation, but is it supposed to make you so self-obsessed that you forget to mention you’re in a country where the military has committed mass killings & mass rape, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee, in one of today’s biggest humanitarian disasters?”

“This is an extremely irresponsible recommendation,” one follower said in response to Dorsey’s travel endorsement.

Dorsey shared a picture of his charity-provided room at the meditation center, where he slept on a plain bed with no mattress.

Twitter user Andrew Bingham said, “Maybe you should spend 10 days in some of the #Rohingya villages and refugee camps, seeing the result of the lies and hate spread on your wonderful US-based technology platform.”

One even said, “Personally, I avoid vacations [to] nations where there is an active genocide underway.”

Dorsey encouraged his followers to try the physically and mentally demanding form of silent meditation known as Vipassana, saying it is particularly helpful for those trying to manage chronic pain. He shared a picture of himself meditating in a cave, where he said he was “bit 117 times by mosquitoes” in the first 10 minutes.

He told his followers of the bitter cold he endured waking up at 4 a.m. every day and meditating until 9 p.m. He uploaded pictures of a pavement on which he practiced walking meditation for 45 minutes every day, saying, “There were breaks for breakfast, lunch, and walking. No dinner.”

One follower questioned Dorsey about the importance of peace in Buddhism, saying mosquito bites and cold were nothing compared to what the Rohingya had suffered.

In another tweet, Dorsey said the highlight of the trip was “serving monks and nuns food, and donating sandals and umbrellas,” uploading a picture and saying that, “This group of young nuns in Mandalay and their chanting was breathtaking and chilling.”

Many of Dorsey’s followers in Myanmar and some in the West praised his account of the country and his meditation experience, however, dismissing the aggressive criticism as utter nonsense.

Myanmar Lawmaker Daw Zin Mar Aung told The Irrawaddy, “He has his own right to choose where he visits. It’s his individual right. The attention given to his trip is so simplistic. Now, people are just politicizing his individual view and experiences of Myanmar. It is a totally different topic [than the Rohingya issue] and ill judged.”

Myanmar Twitter user Crystal Kee said, “Thank you for seeing my country as it is Jack. It’s indeed a beautiful country. To those who think that our country encourages genocide, not everything you hear and read from internet is true. Open your heart and eyes. And come visit to Myanmar.”

One Myanmar follower said, “He just described what he saw. Is there any connection between his trip and the case that the attackers highlighted on his thread?”

Twitter user Davidson said, “Jack is talking about meditation and the beauty of country. You guys are talking about refugees. What is wrong with you guys?”

Another, Kevin, tweeted, “He wants you to know how about his powerful experiences with Vipassana meditation techniques, not about the Rohingya. Keep on his track.”

Myanmar follower Khine Lynn tweeted, “You wrote what you saw. Fighting Jack! We stand with you. Just keep your inner peace.”

Dorsey did not respond to the criticism until Monday. His most recent tweet about Myanmar said, “Thanks for reading! Always happy to answer any questions about my experience. Will track responses to this thread. I’ll continue to do this every year, and hopefully do longer and longer each time. The time I take away to do this gives so much back to me and my work.”