NAYPYITAW — Myanmar’s Lower House approved a motion on Wednesday establishing a body to monitor racial and religious hate speech online, and curb the spread of disinformation on social media. The body will be overseen by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.
“We’ll form a monitoring body in coordination with the President’s Office and the Attorney-General’s Office. We will ensure that the monitoring doesn’t infringe on the privacy or fundamental rights of citizens as enshrined in the  Constitution,” minister U Thant Sin Maung told lawmakers.
Facebook is the most popular social media platform in Myanmar, with nearly 14 million users, according to a ministry estimate. Concerned that the site is becoming an organ for disseminating hate speech, the ministry has been negotiating with Facebook officials to find a way to monitor use of the platform, the minister said.
The minister said that everyone has an obligation to use social media responsibly, adding that the government cannot fight hate speech alone.
Facebook claims users in Myanmar do not properly read the platform’s terms and conditions of use before creating accounts, and has urged the government to educate the public on the proper use of social media.
The motion to establish the monitoring body was brought before the Lower House late last month by Daw Yin Min Hlaing, the National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker for Magwe Region’s Gangaw Township. The lawmaker argued that irresponsible use of the Internet could disrupt law and order and corrupt morals—a view shared by the transportation and communications minister.
“It is not about levying a tax [on Facebook users], invading people’s privacy, or denying the right to information. It is about limiting the spread of disinformation, hate speech and racial and religious incitement,” the NLD lawmaker told reporters on Wednesday.
Military representative to the Lower House Maj Ne Win proposed registering SIM cards and Facebook users as additional measures to tackle hate speech. He called for legal action against those who intentionally spread false news on social media.
NLD lawmaker U Win Win of Minbu Township stressed the need for safeguards to ensure Internet surveillance does not violate the law protecting citizens’ privacy and security, which was enacted by the previous session of Parliament.
According to data released by the Transportation and Communications Ministry, as of September Myanmar’s SIM card usage stood at 56.127 million, equivalent to 108.56 percent of the population. Internet usage was 46.39 percent, with the vast majority of that occurring on social media platforms including Facebook, Messenger, Viber, and Twitter.
“Attempts to blacken the name of individuals or organizations or instigate racial and religious sentiments disrupt law and order and destabilize the country,” the minister said.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko