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The revolution is digital

10 February 2021 03:39 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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When what is now known as the Saffron Revolution began in Myanmar in early 2007, the big difference between a decade back was that there was rudimentary internet access into the country while the military was playing a cat and mouse game with the democracy protests in trying to keep information corralled. 
The few internet cafes were used by activists to circumvent government restrictions. There was some clever manoeuvring, dangerous as well, like the digital video cameras that were used ‘illegally’ to record the uprising and crackdown. The footage was smuggled out of the country. Some of it was turned into the award-winning movie Burma VJ. However, what was not easy was to get through to ordinary citizens who were not tech-savvy. Personal web connectivity was years in the making. That took place in the past decade or so. 

 

"The few internet cafes were used by activists to circumvent government restrictions. There was some clever manoeuvring, dangerous as well, like the digital video cameras that were used ‘illegally’ to record the uprising and crackdown. The footage was smuggled out of the country."


The difference this time was that almost as soon as the military putsch was underway in Myanmar earlier this month, social media buzzed with the move and messages crisscrossed the country and outside of it. It was not difficult to get through, at least initially. Then the military government cut-off internet access, but still the messages were getting through. The first block lasted a few hours. But access was restored thereafter.  A day after the coup, internet connectivity was restored to 75%, Netblocks reported. 


Four days later, the blocking of Facebook, which for many in Myanmar is what the net is about, took place. This was after the social media network was used to share information of the first protests, that of the cacophony of pots and pans being drummed in the night from inside houses. As the civil disobedience movement which started with the beating of pots and pans during the first few nights after the coup, soon evolved into street protests, the restrictions on internet connectivity became even more frequent. As the coup entered its second week, the restrictions increased. 

 

"It is not that the junta did not try. It did, and it will in the future. But the Myanmar experience shows the difficulty in trying to firewall a county or a region quite suddenly. When the internet connectivity was blocked, downloads of Bluetooth communications apps just skyrocketed"


“The internet shutdown has continued into Sunday. As crowds gather for a second day of anti-coup protests, real-time network data show the country remains in the midst of a nation-scale internet blackout with national connectivity flattening at just 14% of ordinary levels. A partial restoration of network connectivity was confirmed from 2p.m. though metrics indicated that social media platforms remained restricted for most users. This has progressed toward a more complete recovery by midnight,” Netblocks reported.


The next day, a contact from within Myanmar wrote that during the time some snail-paced access could be gained to a messaging app. What was happening was that the takeover and the aftermath was being detailed digitally and the history of the event was being written crowd sourced. The military was finding it hard to curb this. 
It is not that the junta did not try. It did, and it will in the future. But the Myanmar experience shows the difficulty in trying to firewall a county or a region quite suddenly. When the internet connectivity was blocked, downloads of Bluetooth communications apps just skyrocketed. Getting messages across was not easy, but it was not impossible. And if there was any modern nation with a history of mass protests and hands-on experience of slow burning civil campaigns, Myanmar is that. 

 

"The difference this time was that almost as soon as the military putsch was underway in Myanmar earlier this month, social media buzzed with the move and messages crisscrossed the country and outside of it. It was not difficult to get through, at least initially"


As I was writing this, I was getting messages from the brave Myanmar citizens who were taking part in the protests of the possibility of pro-junta elements infiltrating the protests which have grown exponentially but remained by and large peaceful. The fear is that the infiltrators would act to provoke police and armed forces.  An overnight curfew and a ban on any public gathering of more than five persons were also in effect. There were also reports of water cannons being used on protestors. And all of these details have  been documented and archived digitally. 
The writer is a journalism researcher and a journalist. He can be contacted on amantha.perera@cqumail.com

 

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