MYANMAR: A News Revolution but Social Media Takes the Lead

ALEXANDRE GUIRAUD-CONTREAU WRITES – It was less than a year ago that Myanmar was celebrating the return of print media, but is seems that social media has already made these sources obsolete.

With an increase in freedom and an opening of the trade market, the population in Myanmar has been able to acquire cellphones. As a result, smartphone applications and social networking have kept the population informed about domestic and global events.

The Voice of Myanmar was the first major newspaper to create an application aiming to keep its nearly six million readers up to date. For those who do not own a smartphone and therefore cannot use such applications, Facebook serves as a primary source of information. Due to its continuous updates, it sometimes proves to be even more interesting than reading the relatively new print media.

According to Ayee Macaraig, a Filipino journalist, and Thaung Su Nyein, editor and chief of the 7Days News, “Facebook has become a sort of an aggregator of content, news feeds, not just social sharing. It’s become a really significant platform even for news organizations like ours. We will tend to the Facebook channel first, put breaking news on Facebook before tending to our website.” It is estimated that, in this country of fifty-five million people, nearly eight hundred thousand of them have Facebook accounts.

With Myanmar’s market now attracting international phone service providers from Norway and Qatar, as well as the interest of Google, a great increase of cellphone ownership is projected for the future. Macaraig explained that the mobile penetration rate represents less than ten percent so far but should reach up to eighty percent by 2016.

Even though the country follows the global trend of increasing use of social media, there are still many questions left to answer. One particular concern is expressed by the Democratic Voice of Burma Newspaper. It warns the government to be wary of abuse of such technology. With religious tensions still lingering, the government must ensure that social media is not used to propagate hate speech against other groups or organize revolts. But this is a sensitive issue at a time when the government has taken great steps towards reform. Acting as a social media police could be seen as a step backwards.

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