Free-Speech-Project, Myanmar, Social-Media, Tiktok, Democracy, Misinformation

Free-Speech-Project, Myanmar

The K-Pop Fans Who Have Become Digital Activists in Myanmar

The strategies of Myanmar K-pop activists mirror digital information manipulation efforts.

10/22/2021 11:06:00 AM

The strategies of Myanmar K-pop activists mirror digital information manipulation efforts.

The skills they learned promoting their favorite idols have become instrumental in fighting for democracy.

using virtual private networks in order to use them. “Our administrators organize on Facebook and Telegram,” Kelvin told us. “Telegram is safer for us, so most of the time we always discuss hashtags and taglines on Telegram.” Telegram, meanwhile, does not require a VPN. Bethany said, “I don’t bring my phone when I go out. ’Cause if they check Facebook Messenger, I would be sentenced for life.”

AdvertisementFor Kelvin’s group, organizing is multifaceted and multiplatform. He and his collaborators share clear guidelines for their followers on how to use Twitter effectively (including changing location and using a VPN). They create specific hashtags to use in “mass trending parties,” in which they all message at once to make important information trend, and coordinate times for these events. Some Burmese activists do not feel safe using Facebook at all. Bethany said she uses Telegram because she is able to delete messages on her end and the recipient’s end as well, and only uses Facebook with a fake name. Telegram features afford her more safety and security than

anythingAdvertisementAdvertisementIn Myanmar, Telegram is not only safer from the surveilling eye of the military than Facebook and Twitter, but also a safer space for reading and fact-checking news. This is an invaluable feature for K-pop activists, as a major piece of democratic activism for people like Kelvin and Bethany is the spread of real news in an information desert. Kelvin gets his news from Indonesian media outlets on Telegram and Signal (they “always give the true information to us,” he says), and uses these platforms to share Burmese news as well. headtopics.com

AdvertisementKelvin also said that although there is false information spreading on encrypted messaging apps, he is able to fact-check and correct misinformation by reaching out directly to the post owner, and then communicate this verified information with his followers. Bethany, meanwhile, created a Google Drive of information about the human rights violations in Myanmar, and uses Telegram to both do her research and share what she has compiled. She is of the opinion, moreover, that “the false information” in Myanmar “is more on Facebook than Telegram.” Limits to Telegram and other encrypted messaging apps would cut these democratic activists off from activism and trustworthy information, which is in very short supply in Myanmar.

AdvertisementAdvertisementK-pop stans in Myanmar and the United States are similar in that they use strategies cultivated for promoting their musical idols to organize for serious political action. Last year, for instance,K-pop fans organized a widespread initiative

where thousands reserved tickets to Donald Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then didn’t show, leaving an almost 19,000 capacity venue largely vacant. K-pop activists in Myanmar differ in their specific political goals and the platforms they use to achieve them, relying on private chat spaces in addition to public forums such as Twitter or TikTok like those who organized the Trump rally buyout. Trevor, an academic in South Korea who writes on K-pop, told us that “[K-pop] is being used by other people … all these different groups from around the world were able to put on this mask of K-pop and use it in their own cultural milieu and environment.”

AdvertisementAdvertisementEncrypted spaces like Telegram and Signal can provide a home for those on the margins—who need anonymity and security to thrive. It is the “who” of groups operating in the margins that bears considering—particularly when it comes to future policy in these spaces. How can democratic uses of these apps be preserved while mitigating harmful ones? In the United States, Telegram has become a home for some violent and racist groups who have been deplatformed elsewhere. In Myanmar, democratic activists would have trouble operating without the very same platform. So, while it is easy to concentrate on the utilization of encrypted messaging apps by white supremacists and propagandists to headtopics.com

spread racist ideology, and call for violence, it is dangerous to have one narrative dominate the entire discourse on regulatory steps. Read more: Slate »

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