But it’s difficult for any country to permanently block major social media sites and censor what people say online — as our colleague Anton Troianovski has reported from Russia. It risks angering citizens and isolating the economy, and the government risks missing its other priorities. It’s also difficult to stay on top of people’s attempts around the internet controls.
How has Myanmar tried to control people’s online activities?
Each morning, people wake up to find new websites they can’t access. For now, it has been fairly easy for people to get around those blocks. The worry is that new technology from China could make the blocks more complete, though we’ve seen no evidence to date of China’s involvement.
How do you explain that in Myanmar people have suffered from too little restraint of the internet and also too much? First, the military spread hatred online against the country’s Rohingya minority group, and now it’s cutting off the internet.
Where democratic institutions are weak and there are challenges over a country’s future, powerful actors will both cut off the flow of information when it suits them and deploy the internet to spread information in their interests. China does both, and so has Myanmar. Though it might seem contradictory, censorship and disinformation go hand in hand.
The fear is that China will make the technology and techniques of its internet manipulation system readily adaptable by other autocratic countries. Myanmar is important to watch because if the generals control the internet without decimating the economy, it may become a model for other authoritarian regimes.