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Government allots over 6 billion kyats to form social media watchdog

A woman uses the internet at an internet cafe in Yangon, on 5 February 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

Union Minister for Transport and Communications Thant Sin Maung announced on Monday that his ministry would spend more than 6.4 billion kyats ($4.8 million) to establish a social media monitoring apparatus.

Speaking to lawmakers at a session of Burma’s bicameral legislature, the Union minister said the ministry would spend the 6.426 billion kyats out of reserve funds proposed by President Htin Kyaw for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

“Utilising high technology, a lawfully established team will systematically monitor and investigate incidents where the tranquillity of the nation is disrupted using telecommunications systems such as the internet or social media networks,” Thant Sin Maung told the parliamentarians. “Upon receiving permission from the Union government, we established the Social Media Monitoring Team — SMMT.”

Funding for the SMMT went toward purchases of hardware and software required for setting up the monitoring team, according to the Union minister.

Parliament approved the formation of the monitoring team and put the motion on record.

“In order to take effective actions against cybercrimes, the ministry has jointly drafted an international-standard cyber law with international experts,” Thant Sin Maung added.

The cabinet official also said that his ministry has been collaborating with other relevant ministries to take action against violations of the standards set forth by social media platforms like Facebook.

As access to the internet in Burma has expanded dramatically in recent years, social media use has exploded — particularly on Facebook.

With that rapid growth has come concerns about the pernicious effects of online hate speech, with UN officials recently going so far as to say Facebook has played a part in fomenting unrest in Rakhine State, where an ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis has caught global attention over the past several months.