Social Media in Armed Conflict: The Case of Myanmar

Social Media in Armed Conflict: The Case of Myanmar
Social media users in Myanmar. Photo: Cordelia Persen/flickr
Led by Stein Tønnesson
Dec 2017 - Dec 2020

​In the last four years, Myanmar has gone from a "no phone country" to a "smart phone country". A people most of whom never used any kind of phones or ever had an e-mail account now consists of accomplished users of Facebook, Viber and other applications. In this research project, we ask questions about how and for what purposes social media are used, about interaction between commanders, officers and troops, and about ethnic armed groups' interaction with civilians in areas under their control.

Between 2012 and 2016, the number of smart phone users in Myanmar grew from 1.7 million to 51 million. This happened in a transitional period from a military dictatorship to a more open, semi-democratic regime. The transition was accompanied by a partial peace process affecting some parts of the country, while communal violence and armed conflict increased dramatically in other areas.

This project studies the ways by which the use of social media either exacerbates conflict or helps to build peace, and emphasizes gender-based and other violence against civilians. The data gathered will be used to test and contribute to peace research theory about conflict termination. This will be studied by: 

  • interviewing business executives as well as representatives of the country's many armed groups and the national army
  • monitoring the use of social media
  • using a specially designed smartphone application to collect data about clashes and violent incidents. 

PRIO researchers will work together with researchers at the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS). MIPS is a non-governmental, non-partisan, independent research-based policy “think-and-do-tank” of academics, veterans of the peace process and security sectors, former exiles, prodemocracy activists, and international experts.

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway's NORGLOBAL programme.

Research Groups

Publications

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Tønnesson, Stein; Min Zaw Oo & Maung Ne Lynn Aung (2021) Pretending to be States: The Use of Facebook by Armed Groups in Myanmar, Journal of Contemporary Asia. DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1905865.

Book Chapter

, Min Zaw Oo (2019) Neighbors Matter: How Armed Groups Utilized Neighboring Countries to Sustain Armed Conflict in Myanmar, in Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding in Asia: Lessons in South-South Cooperation. Seoul: Asia Foundation (88–107).

Popular Article

Tønnesson, Stein (2021) Facebook’s Power in Myanmar, PRIO Blog, 5 February.
Hansen, Julie Marie (2018) The Other Side of Facebook in Myanmar, PRIO Blogs, 12 November.

Conference Paper

Hansen, Julie Marie (2020) Breaking the Silence? The Role of Social Media in Raising Awareness about Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.
Ortmann, Bernhard & Hkalen Tu Hkawng (2020) Discussing nonviolence on Facebook. The protests in Myitkyina in April 2018 in the context of Christian Kachin ethno-nationalism, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 221125.
(2020) The representations of the Syrian conflict in Russian social media, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.
Zaman, Anis (2020) Role of Social Media in the Rise of Buddhist extremism in Myanmar, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.
Tønnesson, Stein & Maung Ne Lynn Aung (2020) Psychological Warfare on Facebook: A Case from Myanmar, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.
Tønnesson, Stein; Min Zaw Oo & Maung Ne Lynn Aung (2020) Pretending to be States: The Use of Facebook by Armed Groups in Myanmar, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.
Mann, Min Aung (2020) Human Security Concern: Necessity to access Facebook in Northern -Rakhine State and Southern Chin State, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.
(2020) Legitimizing the use of violence against civilian actors on social media: The case of Universidad Nacional de Colombia, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.
Yesilöz, Evin Julia (2020) Trial by Facebook: The challenges to social media evidence, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.
Zaw, Aye Aye & Matt Walsh (2020) Utilizing a mobile phone application and Facebook campaigns to reduce the risks of deaths and injuries from landmines and ERW among civilians in Myanmar's conflict zones, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.
Mann, Min Aung (2020) Human Security Concern: Necessity to access Facebook in Northern-Rakhine State and Chin State, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.
Martínez, Elisenda Calvet (2020) The use of geospatial technologies in the Rohingya refugee’s crisis in Myanmar to prevent human rights violations and promote peace, presented at PRIO-MIPS final conference Social media in armed conflict, Oslo, 20201125.

PRIO Policy Brief

Tønnesson, Stein; Ne Lynn Aung & Marte Nilsen (2019) Will Myanmar’s Northern Alliance Join the Peace Process?, PRIO Policy Brief, 2. Oslo: PRIO.

Report - External Series

Tønnesson, Stein (2022) Foreword to MIPS Annual Review 2020-21, MIPS Annual Peace and Security Review, 3. Yangon: Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS).
, Min Zaw Oo; Maung Ne Lynn Aung ; & Morgan Michaels (2022) Annual Peace & Security Review 2020, MIPS Annual Peace and Security Review. Yangon: Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS).
Tønnesson, Stein (2021) China, Cambodia and the Myanmar Crisis, Toda Peace Institute Policy Brief, 118. Tokyo, Japan: Toda Peace Institute.
, Min Zaw Oo; Maung Ne Lynn Aung ; & Morgan Michaels (2020) Annual Peace and Security Review 2019, MIPS Annual Peace and Security Review. Yangon: Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS).
, Min Zaw Oo; & Michael Morgan (2019) Annual Peace and Security Review 2018, MIPS Annual Peace and Security Reviews. Yangon: MIPS.

Projects

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