The Debate

When public debate heats up Mizzima reviews the landscape of opinion and prints the most poignant quotes in favour and against.

This week: Should the government be involved in monitoring social media sites?


Communal violence erupted in Mandalay on July 1 after a rumour from a blog was published on the Thit Htoo Lwin website and then posted on the Facebook page of the Venerable U Wirathu on June 30.

After three days of unrest in which two people were killed and buildings and vehicles damaged, Thit Htoo Lwin apologised for publishing the rumour. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the Venerable U Wirathu said his Facebook page only shared “right information, nothing exaggerated”.

On July 8, an official from the President’s Office said an agreement had been reached between the government and Facebook to monitor the activities of users posting comments in the Myanmar language.


Sithu-Aung-Myint“There will be bad consequences if the government uses the riots as an excuse to control media freedom. We do not support the banning of facebook, but the government needs to find a way to tackle it, because the widespread distribution of hate speech is happening in communities, not only on social media”

Sithu Aung Myint, columnist, in The Irrawaddy

“We can only act to maintain the rule of law, this is a matter for the ministry of Communications and Information Technology, we don’t investigate these matters, we don’t have the knowledge and we don’t have the capacity.”

Police Brigadier-General Win Khaung, spokesperson, Myanmar Police Force

While the burmese government should be working to stop the spread of hate speech on social media, it must ensure that it does not regress to the days of censorship. There is a fine line between protecting individuals from hate speech and silencing legitimate political debate – the question is whether the burmese government can distinguish between the two. If the government is serious about addressing hate speech, it should actively support initiatives that promote racial and religious tolerance both online and offline. Hate speech will not go away simply by censoring avenues for its expression, burma needs to address the root causes of ethnic and religious animosity, including fostering interfaith dialogue between
muslim and buddhist communities.

Hannah Hindstrom, Minority Rights Group International

David-Mathieson“A government that is clearly bent on intimidating the media and has a deplorably weak record on speaking out against hate speech and racism should not play any role in monitoring social media. Any restrictions should be pursued by an independent regulatory body to ensure that free speech is guaranteed and that any instigators of violence are prosecuted. The Press Council should have a role to play in monitoring social media, but not a government which would likely misuse any monitoring as a creeping return to censorship.”

David Mathieson, Human Rights Watch

Thaung-Su-Nyein“The government shouldn’t be allowed to use this as a tool to oppress or suppress dissent or a public voice or the media. So there are definitely some concerns that it might lead to that, and we have to be careful.”

U Thaung Su Nyein, chief executive officer, Information Matrix


“Every social website, facebook, google+, Twitter has its own specific terms and conditions. These terms include forbidding riots, violation of the law, personal attacks or abuse based on race or religion.

Facebook has procedures to report violation of these terms but in myanmar, the majority of users use the Myanmar ‘Zawgyi’ font, which makes it difficult to assess when an account is making personal attacks, spreading hate speech etc. To monitor this more effectively, Facebook has assigned a member of staff who is an expert in the Myanmar language.


Wirathu“This is a good move, particularly if they watch over both sides and take serious action over any wrong-doing. The spread of hate-speech and defamatory text and photos will be reduced. To those people that question whether this infringes people’s human rights, I say that freedom should not include the freedom to insult others. It is a misuse of that right.”

Venerable U Wirathu

“Rumours can spread through other channels but people chose facebook because it is fast and effective. It is important that we take action to curb these rumours, if this method can prove effective then the safety of society will be greatly improved.”

U Min Oo, chairman, Yangon Region Computer Professionals Association

“In a developing country like ours, social networks like facebook make things challenging for the country as it moves towards democratisation. We can see that facebook is being used as a political weapon.”

U Zaw Htay, director of President’s Office, in Wall Street Journal

Nay-Phone-Latt“Facebook and the government have come into some sort of agreement; it is unclear exactly what they have agreed upon. The individual monitoring of people that spread hatred is necessary, but not full time monitoring of the population.”

Nay Phone Latt, founder of Panzagar, which campaigns against hate speech

It is true that when the riots in mandalay occurred we spoke to facebook and asked for their assistance. We asked for their help within the guidelines laid out within their own terms and conditions, which is why they agreed to help. They would not have responded positively otherwise.

We did not ask facebook to do anything that would violate the liberty of its users and facebook would never do such a thing. Users will continue to enjoy the same personal freedoms that were promised by facebook when they signed up to the site.

We have come to a mutual agreement with Facebook, this will not be a panacea to the inter-communal violence but we have witnessed that incidents have already decreased.

This is a short-term solution. In the long run people must become responsible users of facebook. In addition we have been working with IT organisations in the hope to hold forums that invite organisations such as facebook, google and people who are users of these social media sites. We shall also introduce a Cyber Law that will punish those who act in this way.”

A senior official in the President’s Office, who requested anonymity

This Article first appeared in the July 24, 2014 edition of Mizzima Business Weekly.

Mizzima Business Weekly is available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at

The illegal logging of rosewood in Myanmar and throughout the region highlights the challenge of preservation in the absence of adequate enforcement.

An insatiable demand in China for furniture made from rosewood could result in the trees being logged to extinction in Myanmar within three years, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency has warned.

Saturday, 26 July 2014 15:36

Lives in limbo

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Talk of repatriating Myanmar refugees is 'nothing new': UNHCR official

For nearly a decade Saw Htoo Say, a Karen, worked at a hospital in a Tatmadaw base at Ba Htoo, 36 miles (58 kilometres) north of the Shan State capital, Taunggyi. He agreed to a five year contract but after ten years in the job was refused permission to leave, Saw Htoo Say said he felt trapped and discriminated against in his position.

Sunday, 20 July 2014 16:36

Nawaday Art Gallery

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An oasis of green and a controversial owner

Sipping a latte in a residential compound owned by someone once considered the most feared man in Myanmar - and who spent seven years living there under house arrest - is one of the most surreal experiences Yangon has to offer.

Sunday, 20 July 2014 16:32

Energy addiction

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Piracy surge justifies China’s investment in Myanmar oil terminal

China’s strategic investment in an oil transhipment terminal on the Myanmar coast at Kyaukphyu and a 900-kilometre pipeline to Yunnan could soon be justified by a surge in piracy in the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sunday, 20 July 2014 16:27

Thilawa SEZ: Some unanswered questions

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Residents raise environmental, health concerns

Concerns about air and water pollution from the Thilawa Special Economic Zone have been raised at a meeting held by its management committee to give residents an opportunity to discuss concerns about the project's environmental impact.

The former president of Timor-Leste (East Timor), Jose Ramos-Horta, was an indefatigable campaigner for the freedom of his motherland from Indonesian rule for 24 years, from 1975 until 1999, when Jakarta relinquished control of the former Portuguese colony three years before it became an independent nation. Mr Ramos-Horta, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, was Timor Leste's President from 2007 to 2012 after earlier serving as Prime Minister and as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in the difficult early years after independence. A self-described "rebel with a cause" for 24 years, Mr Ramos-Horta was guest speaker at a dinner held at the Yangon's Kandawgyi Palace Hotel on July 3 in conjunction with a roundtable on the South China Sea organised by the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies and the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council and the Saranrom Institute for Foreign Affairs, both of which are based in Bangkok. This is an edited version of Mr Ramos-Horta's speech, titled 'Reconciling Communities, Building Lasting Peace'.

A leading player in Myanmar’s seafood sector tells Mizzima Business Weekly he's optimistic about the industry's export potential if constraints can be overcome.

Monday, 14 July 2014 19:17

A 'tectonic' shift in education

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Learner-centred curriculum for Myanmar students in Thailand

Student teachers at the Mae La camp learning how to use the pre-Intermediate textbook developed by Curriculum Project. Photo: Curriculum Project

For more than ten years the Karenni Social Development Center has been educating young people on the Thai-Myanmar border in human rights, international law and environmental sustainability.