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Myanmar concerned over hate speech in social media

Myanmar's government is concerned that hate speech over social media is mounting, especially as the country gains more mobile connectivity.

YANGON: Myanmar's government is concerned that hate speech over social media is mounting, especially as the country gains more mobile connectivity.

This comes as foreign telcos such as Qatar's Ooredoo and Norway's Telenor launch their mobile services in the country to give subscribers better information access. Authorities want to balance their wish to develop the telecommunications industry while looking to draft regulations to stop the spread of such hate speech.

The communal riots in Mandalay last month were ignited by accusations on social media of a Muslim man raping a Buddhist woman. That incident, which killed two people, turned out to be completely fabricated.

Ye Htut, Myanmar‘s information minister, said: "Since 2012, we noticed more and more people are using the social network and many rumours and hate speech are spread by the social media, especially on Facebook and in the latest incident in Mandalay, Facebook played a very important role in starting the rumour about the alleged rape case by some people."

The spread of hate speech is worsened when public figures take to the Internet to propagate their extreme views. Mobile operator Telenor however believes that access to mobile internet can help equip citizens with more sources of information.

Petter Furberg, CEO of Telenor Myanmar, said: "Internet will be one of the key factors for actually educating people, giving them better information, a better understanding of the society and also what happens internationally. So generally, you can always say there'll be pluses and minuses with these."

The government is not oblivious to such problems and believes it faces a major challenge with increasing mobile phone penetration rates. Many Myanmar citizens still make use of telephone booths to make calls - only 10 per cent of Myanmar's 60 million population has mobile phone access today, and by 2016, the country wants to increase that to 80 per cent.

But some fear social media users in Myanmar lack the responsibility to govern themselves. Ye Htut said: "In the past, in our country, information was very strictly controlled by the government. But now, we suddenly open up. People are hungry for information and they tend to believe everything on Facebook or blogs, or (what) they find out on the Internet."

To manage the expected proliferation of social media usage, the government is planning to work with civil societies to develop better regulations for the telecommunications industry. 

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