Social Media is just beginning to develop in Myanmar. Previously, the telecom sector was dominated by a state-owned monopoly. According to Forbes, at the beginning of 2012 mobile phone penetration in Myanmar was just below 4%. According to the World Bank, in 2013 only 1.2% of the population used the internet.
Despite these statistics, social media is still making strides. Facebook has become the most popular social media site by far. John Handley, the chief executive officer of Myanmar’s first and largest advertising company, Sail, says, “Facebook has essentially become synonymous with the internet in Myanmar, where internet users are roughly equal to those who have Facebook accounts.” During the time of strict government censorship over the media, especially print media, Facebook was used by journalists to bypass the strict controls according to TheNextWeb. An example of this was during the 2012 elections, journalists used Facebook to report the results in a more timely manner. Instead of securing permission from the government to print the results a day after, journalists opted to publish content on their own terms using social media. The executive editor of 7Day News, Nyein Nyein Naing, said “Our paper will (published) after the election, so we will post on Facebook and our Twitter account, so we will update all the news every hour after the polling stations open.”
There have also been recent reports from DVB, a non-profit media organization based in Thailand, that the Burmese government has reached out to Facebook in order to monitor content and hate speech that could “instigate racial and religious violence in the country.” However, it is unclear what agreements, if any, have been made. Zaw Htay, the director the President’s Office in Myanmar, said government officials met with Facebook representatives and, “They recommended enacting a cyber law to moderate the use of social media, but that may take some time.” Facebook does not support this claim. It stated that no proposed cyber law was suggested to Myanmar and that Facebook does not monitor or moderate content. If content is reported to violate Facebooks terms, the company will review it and take it down.
While Facebook seems to be dominating the Myanmar social media scene, there is a new social network that is growing in Myanmar called Squar. Forbes reports it is a local media site in the Burmese language, aimed specifically at the Burmese youth. The CEO, Rita Nguyen, strongly believes that Western social networks and products are not created for the Burmese market or culture. This new social network was created specifically with the Burmese people in mind. She says, “Its teaching people how they can use this technology they’ve never used before… How do we bring the internet to a country that has been largely excluded from the international society for over 60 years?”