It is often said that Facebook is synonymous with the internet in Myanmar. Yet this oversimplification does not take into account what people make of the digital world, Myanmar-based innovation lab Phandeeyar reported in its newly released study.
Titled “Exploring Digital & Mobile Cultures in Myanmar,” the study, released Tuesday, 18 June 2019, revealed that social networking is a secondary function of Facebook in the country. Myanmar mobile users primarily valued the digital platform for access to information, especially since “it is more responsive to search and thus offers better-quality content.” This finding suggests that users are actively searching for information online, contrary to the common belief that passive information consumption is prevalent in the country.
Phandeeyar also found that participants have “their own ways of curating their experience” of online negativity. Some have reported an indifference towards misleading content, while many spoke of “hate speech and fake news fatigue.”
The study hopes to yield insights that would “challenge our previously held assumptions about the internet in Myanmar” and contribute to a better and safer internet in the country through civil society initiatives that would tackle community standards in the online space.
Skepticism for content seen on Facebook varied among the 137 individuals covered by the study, many of whom were young adults and college students aged 18 to 22. Their methods to assess the veracity of online news included content or critical analysis, such as reading the comments to confirm the validity of a content.
Conducted between October 2018 and March 2019, the study, however, found that many participants were not aware of other verification methods apart from content or critical analysis. Verification methods such as checking sources, dates, authors, and references were not employed by many of the participants.
In 2018, the Human Rights Council found Facebook had been instrumental in the spread of online hate in Myanmar, which translated to real-world violence in the Kachin, Rakhine, and Shan states. Asked about the net positive or negative impact of the internet on society, participants to the Phandeeyar study connected internet and technology’s good or bad effects with individual users’ good or bad intentions.
While Facebook and Messenger remain the most popular apps in Myanmar, YouTube, TikTok (for short-form videos), Zapya (for file sharing), and various video downloaders are also commonly used. The most popular content in the country comes in the form of videos.
Data on behavior related to online entertainment was easier to generate compared to those related to online news. All of the study’s 23 focus groups reported that next to communication, participants used their mobile phones to watch videos. “Humourous (sic) content is the most popular (and potentially successful) online,” Phandeeyar said. It pointed out, however, that there was difficulty in assessing the news consumption habits of Facebook users. “It is even difficult to define who’s a news reader and who’s not, when information is pushed in to our daily surfing, rather than by choice.”
The tech hub said further study was needed on the people’s news-reading behavior on mobile phones.