Myanmar: Genocide and Activism in the Age of Social Media

Vacation tip: genocide is not the perfect backdrop for your selfie.  As you may have heard, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is currently facing a social media backlash over his recent series of posts on Twitter about his beautiful vacation in Myanmar. Myanmar (or Burma, as you can call it if you’d like a lecture on outdated names and colonialism) used to be that country from an episode of Seinfeld for most Americans. Now, many of us know it as the country that has been in the midst of a widespread ethnic cleansing, if not outright genocide, against the Rohingya ethnic group, a Muslim minority in a Buddhist majority country.  The fact that the biggest news about Myanmar is currently focused on Tweets and responses over Twitter and Facebook only highlights the ways in which social media is either reshaping or perhaps just magnifying the ways in which we as westerners, and Americans in particular, approach far-away crises.

In many ways, the Rohingya’s plight in Myanmar is a crisis that’s tailor-made for the age of social media.  It has a mix of details that, from the perspective of an American audience, are familiar (Muslims, military dictatorship, ethnic cleansing) and unique (Buddhists as perpetrators of violence instead of the peace-loving stereotype; Muslims as the victims of religious violence; the fall from grace of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner now leading a regime in which the military that imprisoned her for years is carrying out genocide, ostensibly under her leadership) enough to grab our attention.  There are a number of angles to the story that allow it to reemerge in various news cycles. For example, every time President Suu Kyi has one of the many honors previously bestowed upon her in the West revoked, a new story is generated.  Today, two journalists imprisoned for their coverage of the genocide were among Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year, again highlighting a different facet of the crisis and tying it into a separate narrative of journalism under threat (which resonates strongly in the era of Saudi assassinations and Donald Trump).

The images coming out of Myanmar are compelling while also satisfying our strange fascination with disaster porn (which I assume is the most popular variety of porn on the internet); will the Burmese Muslims being persecuted know it’s Christmas? And even the names of the country and of the ethnic group being targeted are short (three syllables each, seven and eight letters, respectively) and distinctive enough to be learned, remembered and repeated; in other words, #Myanmar and #Rohingya are quite hashtagable.

Yet, as has often been the case with so-called hashtag activism, all these faces of the story allow us to talk around the story without necessarily talking about the story, much less doing something tangible about the crisis itself.  Myanmar and the Rohingya become interesting pieces of knowledge to trot out for conversation at the office holiday party or Christmas dinner.  We can feel knowledgeable and accomplished from sharing a hashtag and morally righteous for condemning killing and raping people based on their religion as wrong (gold stars everyone). And then, like #Kony2012 or #BringBackOurGirls, we can read a story or two before clicking over to our next tab to find out how Cardi B’s marriage is going today.  

But I’ve ventured into “back in my day/get off my lawn” territory. Awareness campaigns do raise knowledge of issues, which filters into donations and political pressure that can have real results (when I was growing up, #FreeMandela might as well have been a hashtag).  Joseph Kony has been boxed in (but not captured) and half of the Chibok girls have been brought back, outcomes that were at least somewhat influenced by the extra resources brought as a result of international attention and widespread outrage.  So, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, we should perhaps rejoice that the truth about Myanmar is being spread to the world, whether through pretense (or pretentiousness) or sincerity.

The Myanmar crisis also, however, further highlights the emerging dark side of social media.  In some ways this development was natural. When the Arab Spring emerged across the greater Middle East nearly eight years ago, participants and observers noted the power of social media to organize protesters and the attempts by authoritarian governments to control or shut down these online platforms.  Yet, more recent events such as Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election, accomplished in part through the spread of “fake news” to vast numbers of people through Facebook, showed that social media is a morally neutral tool that could be employed for noble or nefarious means.

Media and propaganda have been used to promote genocides and crimes against humanity for a long time; from ancient rumors and slanders against Jews and Christians to Nazi propaganda to Genocidaire radio broadcasts in Rwanda comparing Tutsi to cockroaches, murderous and authoritarian regimes have used the available media to spread their ideologies and facilitate political mass violence.  This sinister side of social media has become evident in the Myanmar case, where the proliferation of cell phones and Facebook accounts have facilitated the spread among the majority population of violent Buddhist nationalism and anti-Rohingya rhetoric, leading much of the local population to support the army’s violence against the Muslim minority while denying that these actions constitute genocide.


Perhaps at the end of the day, social media has not transformed either crimes against humanity or the reactions and oppositions to these events as much as its simply magnified and simplified the processes by which these things occur.  Whether or not the increased scale and speed by which the masses become aware of, and perhaps involved in, these crises will translate into different outcomes depends more on human nature than the nature of technology.  In other words, now that everyone can gain information about crises like the Myanmar genocide in close to real time, will we collectively use this knowledge to fight for change, or will we be satisfied that we know more than ever about the crises that we are ignoring?

140 thoughts on “Myanmar: Genocide and Activism in the Age of Social Media”

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  3. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.
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  4. I?m impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog that?s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.
    atomy

  5. An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you become expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!
    財神娛樂城

  6. I?m impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog that?s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.
    財神娛樂

  7. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.
    艾多美

  8. This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want?HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!
    娛樂城

  9. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.
    娛樂城

  10. 球队的态度,会不会不关心联赛?有的时候我们确实开局踢得不好,有的时候则是结尾踢得不好,我们希望能够保证从第一分钟到最后一分钟都是全力以赴,我们需要保证专注,因为莱加内斯也有他们的目标,这是需要控制好的。

  11. There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impact of just a moment?s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.
    atomy

  12. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.
    財神娛樂

  13. An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you become expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!
    艾多美

  14. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.
    財神娛樂

  15. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.
    財神娛樂城

  16. 贝尔与本泽马现在是不是已经被球队抛弃了?不,我们需要每一个人人,我也会努力让他们两个人在皇马开心地踢球,希望外面的传闻不影响到我的球员,足球就是足球,每一个球员都希望出场,但是有的时候不是每一个人球员的想法都可以实现。

  17. There are some interesting points in time in this article but I don?t know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well
    娛樂城

  18. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.
    財神娛樂

  19. 同样身为联合国开发计划署亲善大使的前法国国家队队长齐达内(ZinedineZidane)和巴西传奇前锋罗纳尔多(Ronaldo),将和效力于英格兰超级足球联赛劲旅切尔西(Chelsea)的象牙海岸籍前锋“魔兽”德罗巴(DidierDrogba)、退役荷兰中场席多夫(ClarenceSeedorf)及前巴西国家队长卡富(Cafu)共同组队。

  20. (Viernes)新浪体育公众号24小时滚动播报最新体育资讯、趣闻和视频,更多福利扫描二维码关注(sinasports)齐达内认为这是点球皇马惊险晋级,赛后齐达内赛后如释重负,他在新闻发布会上表示,我感到满意,从两场比赛180分钟的情况来看,我们配得上晋级。

  21. There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impact of just a moment?s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.
    娛樂城

  22. Nice post. I learn something more challenging on different blogs everyday. It will always be stimulating to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their store. I?d prefer to use some with the content on my blog whether you don?t mind. Natually I?ll give you a link on your web blog. Thanks for sharing.
    財神娛樂城

  23. Nice post. I learn something more challenging on different blogs everyday. It will always be stimulating to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their store. I?d prefer to use some with the content on my blog whether you don?t mind. Natually I?ll give you a link on your web blog. Thanks for sharing.
    財神娛樂城

  24. There are some interesting points in time in this article but I don?t know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well
    atomy

  25. 对于明天谁将出任右后卫,齐达内打起了太极,我不会告诉你我的计划的,你们也许会去分析我的话,但是我要告诉你们的是,不论发生什么事,我们都是一个整体,我们有很多人可以出场,我们也做到任何事情。

  26. When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thanks!
    atomy

  27. 当被问到,是否担心因尤文点球事件影响对阵拜仁时的裁判判罚时,齐达内回答说,我在前几天已经谈过这件事了,我们会做好我们自己的工作,裁判也会做好他自己的工作。

  28. There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impact of just a moment?s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.
    艾多美

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