Nowadays, social media is getting more and more popular as a means for people to connect and share information. Among the various social media platforms used in Myanmar, Facebook is the most popular with one study siting that as of February 2019 there were 21,765,000 Facebook users.
Social media will play a crucial role in the context of Myanmar’s upcoming 2020 elections, particularly as electoral actors such as political parties and their candidates will use these platforms to communicate and connect with voters, spread campaign messages and mobilize support. The popularity of Facebook in Myanmar will ensure that the platform will also be a crucial source of information for voters in the run-up of the 2020 elections.
Despite Facebook’s use to spread factual information around the electoral processes however, the platform has also been used to spread misinformation, hate speech and in extreme cases incite physical abuse and violence. Political parties must therefore be equipped with the technical skills to use Facebook effectively and responsibly in their political campaigns.
In order to support thinking on ways that political parties can confront misinformation and hate speech on social media, the European Union (EU) funded STEP Democracy Program – through the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD) – held a workshop in Yangon on 6-8 November 2019 for parliamentary parties.
At the event, Facebook’s Politics and Government Outreach Team briefed party representatives about how to best connect with voters while also discussing crucial topics such as digital security, Facebook’s Community Standards and reporting mechanisms for hate speech.
As one participant noted, “It was a great opportunity to discuss directly with Facebook about our challenges as here in Myanmar as social media is still a new concept”.
“At Facebook, we began preparing for Myanmar's 2020 General Election more than a year in advance, using best practices from elections that we have successfully supported around the world. In Myanmar, we are working with partners such as DIPD and STEP Democracy to ensure that political parties and their representatives can have a better understanding of our tools and how they can use our platforms to safely and responsibly connect with voters,” said Rebecca Oh, Facebook's Politics & Government Outreach representative.
Building on the initial inputs given by the Facebook team, STEP Democracy through DIPD and in collaboration with Myanma Fifth Estate (MFE) trained party members on how to develop a social media campaign strategy on 7 and 8 November. Tools for developing social media friendly content were also discussed along with practical strategies to monitor and counter misinformation about a party or candidates.
“We gained a lot of new knowledge about social media campaigning, but we will have to work together with Facebook and other stakeholders to tackle the challenge of fake news, hate speech and misinformation”, said another participant.
"With social media being extremely popular amongst young people, STEP Democracy and DIPD will not only work with candidates and campaign managers but also with the parties' youth wings on social media campaigning and its challenges ahead of the 2020 elections," concluded Michael Siegner, Technical Advisor to DIPD.