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Facebook Mania and Dependable Information

nformation is the Oxygen of Democracy”, a maxim by British human rights organization ARTICLE 19 which campaigns for the defence and promotion of freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide, highlights the seriousness of information and the need of freedom of information in a democracy practice. It is a noteworthy watchword representing the concept of correlation between democracy development and the free flow of information. After going through a couple of decades of turbulent democratization process, Myanmar is now gathering momentum to take shape as a newest emerging democracy in Asia and in the world with the leadership of a genuine, but inexperienced, civilian government, being welcomed by a heap of miscellaneous challenges. One of the potential challenges for the newcomer government may be the issue of reliable information, although it is a matter that needs to be handled by all-inclusive participation approaches of different stakeholders including the general public. By opening the telecommunications market, Myanmar has by now leapfrogged the generations-long digital gap; awarding operator licences to two foreign telecom companies. A total of three mobile communication providers are now in the country along with a local operator that already exists – resulting in a fierce rivalry among the firms. Against this backdrop, the use of internet via various digital platforms, especially mobile phones, has been unprecedentedly escalating during recent years. Accordingly, social media has progressively gained influence over all levels of Myanmar people; from the working classes to business magnates, from basic education students and traders to university rectors and high-level government officials, from pop stars and film actors to parliament speakers and the Defence Services chiefs and from adolescents to the aged.

Amidst social network services, Facebook has become increasingly popular and widely used I “among Myanmar citizens that, for instance, it can be seen even an old man who is not familiar with technology and/or does not have had the experience of employing digital devices stroll around the Facebook pages through a mobile phone. No need to say for tech-savvy youngsters of internet generations. Consequently, Facebook becomes a major news source in Myanmar society and this social media can now be seen playing an important role in producing and dissemination of information in the community. On the other hand, private media has somewhat strengthened and the use of various Internet websites among the general public has quite increased in a recent time. In this context, information today in Myanmar comes with a state of overload; there is often an atmosphere of ‘buzz’ and ‘rumour has it’. And hence, the situation stages the problem of access to trustworthy and credible information in society. The topic of information overload in the current Myanmar was covered in a symposium on information held in Yangon early 2016. The two-day symposium was organized by the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation (MBAPF), Enlightened Myanmar Research (EMR), the University of Washington and The Asia Foundation as a project of the Information Strategies for Societies in Transition programme. The programme was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Microsoft, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Tableau Foundation. The conference presented practitioners’ panel discussions and participants’ marketplace of ideas, discussing and sharing ideas and perspectives about opportunities and challenges and risks and trends concerned with information.

Historically, Myanmar is a nation which practises little of data collecting and statistics compilation. The action of assembling facts from different sources systematically with the purpose of re-constructing and re-producing as useful information is rare. It is often seen as a ‘No-Data’ country on various occasions. Government secrecy, organizations’ failure to carry out data processing and people’s lack of interest and fancy in statistics contributed to historical scarcity of information in Myanmar.

However, with the rise in Facebook use in local context, the traditionally-information-insufficient community now encounters information superfluity that affects the availability of reliable information. Hearsay and tittle-tattle are always buzzing around online, making people indeterminable what are rumours or what are facts, what is official or what is gossip. In this regard, it is also a necessity for people to have knowledge and literacy skills to differentiate unproven and ill-founded information from dependable and useful information.

Although responsible information production and informed consumption of information is essential for a nascent democratic Myanmar, the contemporaneous practice of information generating and dissemination in the population is deviant from a supportive aspect to contribute to democracy development. It is found that citizenry craze of Facebook is happening to hinder access to trustworthy information, rather than assist in providing dependable information for the encouragement of the advancement of democracy practice.