“Despite many projects concerning digital media literacy provided by international organizations like “United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)”, we can’t deny the fact that Myanmar people are still weak in digital media literacy especially when the country is facing this kind of political crisis.” Dr. Hsu Thiri Zaw, a Lecturer of Journalism Department at National Management Degree College, proposed.
During the decades of military rule, most Myanmar citizens didn’t have SIM cards as they cost around US dollar $3000. Since 2013, telecommunication services companies like Telenor and Ooredoo have offered affordable SIM cards to Myanmar people. Starting at that time, nine out of ten Myanmar citizens have access to mobile internet and Facebook, a social media platform, has grown in popularity since then.
Now, Facebook becomes the primary source of information and news for Myanmar people but social media platforms are not inherently good or bad as social media is a double-edged sword. Its impacts upon the political engagement of youths are gigantic. As the media messages are everywhere, people can no longer turn a blind eye to the importance of social media literacy so-called digital media literacy.
Not being Social Media Literate
The American Library Association (ALA) interprets digital media literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” With little or no time to develop social media literacy skills, the lack of this critical literacy becomes the greatest obstacle for the country’s development and current Myanmar’s political situation highlights the peoples’ weakness in social media literacy.
“Even though social media platforms are more effective, time-saving and affordable than traditional media in spreading information and news, social media is dangerously toxic to the current situation in Myanmar.” said Ma Moe Thinzar Khine, a founder of “Striveful”. People living in Myanmar don’t know how to use social media platforms safely. Myanmar people’s lack of skill to access, analyze and engage in critical thinking about the information that they receive and send is causing political and social confusions in the country. However, we must never forget that in chaos, there is an opportunity.
How does it affect the current political situation in Myanmar?
In this digital age, the way we consume information is different and it is undeniable that the influence of social media on Myanmar people is vigorous. Because of the lack of social media literacy, Myanmar people are facing many challenges on social media.
1. Fake news- People’s lack of social media literacy fuels chaos in Myanmar as people aren't aware of the rumors and it is becoming more and more difficult to filter misinformation and fake news. Fake news causes unnecessary panics and people can no longer make decisive decisions.
2. Viral contents on social media- Viral contents trigger the emotions of the readers which negatively impacts the people’s mentality.
3. Information overload- The information concerning matters of the military coup are overloaded and the right information got delayed.
4. Psywar- The military government is using social media to spread psychological warfare (psywar) which causes psychological effects to the readers and without realizing it, Myanmar people are consuming that information which slowdowns the pace of protests against the military coup.
What can we do?
With the current situation, it is nearly impossible for Myanmar people to educate themselves but we must offer every possible way to bring digital media literacy into formal and non-formal education settings. It is out of the question to change the education system of Myanmar but there are some possible temporary solutions to overcome misinformation and to teach people how to use social media smartly.
- Be a fact-checker – every social media user must check their information if it is possible or not before they share, like, and comment on the information.
- Reliable sources – Multiple, verified and authoritative sources are better than uninformed sources. Thus, people must beware of anonymous sources.
- Protect your data- People’s personal information has been prominent and easy to find as it is on social media platforms. Thus, people should stop oversharing to protect their personal information.
- Control the usage of social media- As social media can be toxic sometimes, people have to control the way they use social media. People must realize social media is not only for entertainment but also for delivering valuable content to others.
- Be a good internet user- Every internet user has responsibilities to respect others on the internet, being safe, remaining ethical, and thinking before clicking
What are we doing?
Dr. Hsu Thiri Zaw said, “Youths in Myanmar are trying to solve this problem by analyzing news on behalf of others and pages on social media platforms like Yes Vs No (ဟုတ်တယ် Vs မဟုတ်ဘူး) does the fact-checking for Myanmar people.”
Many youth-led organizations like “Striveful” have offered classes for critical thinking and “Democracy Monitor”, a Facebook page led by youths, is providing services like free translation, fake news monitoring, and campaign monitoring for the protests against the military coup.
According to an insightful remark about the rapid transmission of lies attributed by Mark Twain. “A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.” It is effortless to spread fake news but it takes strenuous efforts to spread harsh truths. People in Myanmar can’t accept harsh truths instead they would believe fake news as these are more comforting. To overcome these problems, Myanmar people must be literate in social media literacy skills and we must know how to use social media effectively for our advantage.