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With internet access rapidly expanding in Burma and the price on SIM-cards and smartphones falling, more and more people are using social media.
But while it can be a way to keep in touch with friends or promote your company, media analysts warn that it can also be a source of hate speech and fear mongering.
The Rangoon-based Heys Food Catering Service turned to social media to launch its business. As a small startup, the company used Facebook to attract customers and introduce itself to the market.
Customers can see the menu and order food for home delivery online. Heys Food also receives orders from other companies, for social meetings and bigger dinner parties.
Meanwhile, writer Mar J from Myanmar Media Group uses Facebook to get material and inspiration for news stories.
“I’m a regular user of social websites. Above all, I think social networks necessarily facilitate our [media workers] business.”
But he has also experienced the downside of the use of the internet. Recently, an interview with an actress about the ultranationalist Buddhist 969 movement, allegedly written by Mar J, went viral. However, the interview had been faked and both Mar J and the actress in question were shocked.
“We saw her image in the news article and my byline was on this fake interview. It said I was interviewing her about the 969 religious movement.”
He had to write an explanatory article distancing himself from the interview, and eventually the commotion died down.
Well-known blogger and executive director of Myanmar ICT Development Organisation (MIDO), Nay Phone Latt was sentenced to 20 years in prison for publishing a cartoon of Than Shwe in 2008, but was released in the beginning of 2012.
MIDO now works to narrow the digital divide between rural and urban areas in Burma, and they claim to have observed a pattern in how people use social media.
“Internet users can be divided into two groups. One uses social networks for good purposes; while others use them for bad purposes. Now I think the bad impact of internet is bigger than the good one.”
Nay Phone Latt says they have noticed that people use more than one Facebook account, often for the purpose of instigating social or religious unrest. He thinks that this has fuelled a recent wave of Muslim-Buddhist clashes in the country.
He insists that everyone has to collaborate during this period of transition to ensure that social media and the internet are not used in the wrong way.