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The Burmese government will cooperate with the United States to fight against hate speech.
Burma’s Information Minister Ye Htut said he had made an agreement to fight against the use of hate speech on the internet at a meeting on Friday morning with US Ambassador Derek Mitchell.
Ye Htut told DVB he and the US ambassador had discussed matters relating to media management at the upcoming ASEAN summit in Naypyidaw, media development, and the prevention of hate speech on the internet.
Ye Htut said the Ministry of Information had previously worked with the US’s Rangoon embassy in hosting a workshop aimed at deterring young people in Burma from posting provocative or racially abusive comments on the internet.
“Last year, we organised a workshop with the US embassy, and we have also supported civil society groups such as the Panzagar Campaign,” he said.
Launched in April this year, the Panzagar (meaning “flower speech”) Campaign was the creation of well-known blogger and former political prisoner Nay Phone Latt.
Ye Htut said the government was now planning similar workshops for later this year to educate young internet users on “how to follow and understand information on the internet and in the media”.
The opening of the internet in Burma has seen rampant abuse by extremist groups spreading misinformation, inciting violence and circulating false reports and pictures. In Mandalay in July, a false claim of rape levelled at two Muslims that was circulated on Facebook by nationalist monk Wirathu and his followers led to mob violence and riots in which two people were killed and 20 injured. The government shut down the Facebook social media site for several hours to quell the spread of the false report after thousands of comments circulated online urging revenge against the two brothers, who were named and their address and telephone numbers published.
The number of internet users in Burma has jumped from 66,000 in 2011-12 to 2.5 million in 2013-14, a 38-fold increase. State-owned provider Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) says it plans to increase bandwidth by 700 percent to meet the ever-growing demand. According to MPT, there are currently around two million internet users in Burma, a number that is expected to increase to three million in the next year. In addition, the roll-out of services by international telecommunications firms Ooredoo and Telenor could see that figure multiplied exponentially as the two foreign telecoms compete to offer telephone and internet services to even the most remote parts of Burma.
Information Minister Ye Htut also told DVB that during his talks with Ambassador Mitchell, they also “discussed possibilities of cooperating on media management during the upcoming ASEAN summit.”
US President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend the East Asia Summit, which will be hosted in Naypyidaw on 11-12 November, while Bagan hosts an ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting on 12-13 November.