CM – Opponents of Myanmar’s coup have adopted a controversial new tactic to fight back online


Following the February 1 coup in Myanmar and the government crackdown on anti-coup protests, which has become deadlier with more than 700 protests killed by the military around the world, supporters of the protests have been around the world done this on Facebook, using a new method they call « social punishment » to defend themselves against the junta.

Social punishment is a form of protest that essentially consists of punishing family members of military officers (the in Myanmar called Tatmadaw) to doxing. The information disclosed often includes pictures of the person and details of their dealings and family relationships.

In a battle in Myanmar where demonstrators with slingshots often use guns against soldiers and police officers, social punishment is an effective means of to fight back. The only requirement is an internet connection and a social media account. However, targeting individuals for the crimes of their relatives is also a controversial tactic, at high risk for mob justice and unintended consequences.

The most organized form of the campaign involves a database created by anonymous activists listing the Military targets, their photos, their locations, and their insults are listed. The perpetrators are classified according to « traitor level » from « elite » to « low ». Individuals have also taken social punishment into their own hands by creating Facebook groups and viral posts that share the identities of military family members or supporters. For the anti-coup population living abroad, the main objective is to deport the family members of generals living outside the country and freeze their wealth. In Myanmar, the goal is social and economic pressure with boycotts against companies and brands and the hope that social shame will convince the military to work against their families and support the civil disobedience movement.

This has turned into has shown several cases in the United States where the Burmese diaspora is uniquely positioned to target military personnel living abroad because they often know them personally. In Pennsylvania, the owner of an organic skin care line closed her social media accounts after social punishers identified her as the daughter of the junta’s auditor general. Her previous business, which still bears her name, was the target of threats. A Goldman Sachs executive, whose social punishment was the grandson of General Ne Win, the military dictator in Myanmar from 1962 to 1988, and the cousin of Aye Ne Win, a military ally despised by anti-coup protesters, had his address online released. The Burmese community in New York has also targeted Myanmar’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, U Tin Maung Naing, whom the military named U Kyaw Moe Tun to replace Myanmar’s UN envoy to the United Nations, after he had signaled his support for the US protests by holding the three-fingered salute to the movement on the floor of the UN.

« Many of us have started punishing him and his family, » said Moe Chan, a Head of Burma Point, a community-based social punishment organization.

Burmese activists in New York not only bombed the Deputy Permanent Representative’s Facebook page, but also planned to defend the mission if they did the DC-based Myanmar military attaché was supposed to arrive in New York to coerce the ambassador. (A similar situation occurred in London in April). « I’m ready for the battle of 10 East 77th, » one of the protesters wrote on Facebook, referring to the address of Myanmar’s permanent mission on New York’s Upper East Side.

« Mind you, some of our people in the The community and I met with the deputy public representative before the military coup, « Chan said. “We knew him. … We’ve looked at him a couple of times. He greeted us on their mission. We even donated COVID money to him for the people of Myanmar. “

Social punishment is the latest result of the divided society in Myanmar, where the military has always been at odds with the civilian population. Since the beginning of military rule in 1962, the military has killed, imprisoned, tortured and displaced millions. As Internet access increased in Myanmar, citizens were angry to see not only the Tatmadaw violence but also the rich and glamorous lifestyle of their families, while Myanmar’s population living below the poverty line was consistently well over 20 percent. A precedent for social punishment was set in 2006 when dissidents published « Enemies of the Burmese Revolution », a list of more than 1,300 « military hardliners » who were part of the « Tatmadaw » (creatures from hell who invaded Burma since 1962 ) were. » Later that year there was nationwide excitement when a grainy ribbon leaked from the extravagant wedding of Thandar Shwe, the daughter of General Than Shwe, the chief of the junta.

« This has a long history, but the social one Media has completely changed it, « said David Scott Mathieson, an independent analyst from Myanmar.

Over the past decade, Internet access and cell phone ownership have grown dramatically in Myanmar. By 2011, when internet censorship began to ease, only 0.25 percent of the population was using the internet, there were fewer than 1 million cell phones in the country, and few SIM cards cost hundreds of dollars. By 2020, after five years of democratic governance, internet access had risen to 41 percent, there were more than 68 million cell phones (out of a population of 54 million), and the price of a SIM card had dropped to less than $ 2. Data shows that 21 million people are on Facebook. « In Myanmar, Facebook is pretty much where people get the news from, especially for the past 10 years or so, » said J, a Myanmar activist who lives in the US and is on social media with wife Y. Participation in punishment. For the sake of the safety of their families, who are still in Myanmar, J and Y asked that their full names not be used.)

The power of social networks both inside and outside Myanmar took the dispute around 2021 from distinguished earlier turbulence. Social media has become a powerful weapon in the fight against the junta.

Online activism within the Burmese community expands social punishment in the past. Those who oppose the coup have begun deplatforming campaigns to shutdown Tatmadaw accounts. After years of pressure, Facebook and Instagram announced a ban on Tatmadaw pages and ads. « If Big Tech can deplatform Trump, they shouldn’t have a problem deplatforming the junta and their websites, » said Keith, who works in cloud computing in the New York area and is involved in deplatformation efforts. Using the hashtag #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar, people have also turned to social media to find less antagonistic ways of resistance – retrieving and debunking fake news, creating parody accounts, and sharing information on public sites.

In Myanmar, the Tatmadaw cracked down on and restricted internet use, making efforts such as social punishment difficult. During the coup, the military cut internet access, cut wires and held technicians at gunpoint. In the weeks that followed, the military turned off the internet overnight as protests took place in the streets, blocking Facebook, Instagram and Twitter where protesters organized online. At first, people bypassed the blockades using VPNs, but on April 1, the Tatmadaw completely cut off mobile data and broadband internet in the country.

With internet access restricted in Myanmar, the diaspora enthusiastically intervened , To help. For some, social punishment is more useful than rallies abroad or intangible protest methods like donations.

« Social punishment is something that we can definitely do more effectively than the people in the country because the people in the country are at a much higher risk, To be tracked down and arrested, « said J. » I. I think the advantage that people outside of the country have is that we also have some kind of power and opportunity to track down these people who are socially punished and who live abroad . « 

However, executives and analysts worry about the ethics of these tactics and their implications for the livelihood, social life and mental health of their goals.

 » It’s different when you look at General Min Aung Hlaing looks at, « said Chan, referring to the junta chief, whose children were not only socially punished but also sanctioned. » But some junior military personnel do not know their children. … They suddenly appear on Facebook because someone knows him. So am I punishing the major general’s daughter without knowing who she really is? It’s very sketchy at times. « 

Proponents say these people are still worthy targets, indicating their wealth, the ease with which they can obtain visas for safe living abroad, and the generational nature of the military in Myanmar where the grandchildren of Generals often in the military back the streets.

« The current situation in Myanmar is that the military kills everyone, » said J and Y. « They kill children, they kill old people, they torture them. They don’t really care who should be punished. I think it is very fair for us to continue social punishment. « 

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