Reflections from the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum 2020

Posted by on March 5, 2020  /  0 Comments

The Myanmar Digital Rights Forum took place on 28 and 29 February 2020. It was the fourth iteration of the event, and my third. It was also the biggest yet, seeing approx. 350 participants from civil society, government, private sector, and academia.

Many of these participants believed that digital rights and freedom had depleted in Myanmar over the past year, a poll taken at the forum indicated. This can be attributed largely to the Internet shutdowns in the Rakhine and Chin States. Looking forward, many also expressed concerns about online activity concerning the upcoming general elections, likely to be held in end 2020.

Given the centrality of Facebook in the digital space in the country, many were interested in their stance and contributions. Facebook organized a timely and well-attended session on content moderation, where they explained how to report to the platform effectively. They spoke about takedowns on coordinated inauthentic behavior on the platform, a subject we’ve studied at length at LIRNEasia.

Our friends at MIDO, one of the co-organizers of the event organized a number of panels on ‘Access’. I spoke on two panels—one on digital culture, and another on digital accessibility.

The digital culture panel moderated by Htaike Htaike Aung of MIDO was a diverse one, with the panelists bringing in unique insights. Phandeeyar’s digital culture study set the stage for the discussion, covering a wide range of topics from purchasing decisions to perceptions of online safety. Honey Mya Win of ChateSat, a local online freelancing platform, approached the topic from a labor/employment lens, while Nyein Chan spoke of the successes and pitfalls of the Unicode Transition that took place last year. I spoke about self-regulation on social media platforms, drawing links to the existing political and policy environment, and Myanmar’s history of censorship (see below).

Censorship rife in the past, but in ebbs and flows

The second panel I participated in focused on accessibility, particularly for persons with disabilities. The topic was approached in two different but complementary lenses. Myo Min Aung of MIDO and Ye Thura Thet of Kernalix addressed the issue of website accessibility. They found that only a small number of government websites met the W3C standards. Nay Lin Soe and I spoke primarily on the use of ICTs as assistive devices (see slide below).

Can smartphones be ramps to achieve equity?

Disability panel discussion
Photo credit: Yatanar Htun

Overall, the event was an invigorating and useful one that celebrated Myanmar’s successes in the space while identifying gaps and necessary courses of action.

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