Myanmar Coup and Internet Censorship Pushes Civilians to Underground Forums, Dark Web
March 24, 2021 • Insikt Group®
This report introduces international readers to the current geopolitical situation in Myanmar, including but not limited to the military coup and effective takeover of the government in Myanmar, violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters, limitations and forced blackouts of the internet service within Myanmar, and the effects of these crackdowns. The focus of the analysis is on the change in internet use among the population of Burmese civilians, the change in the internet landscape, and the overall trends including the use of encrypted messaging applications and access of the underground web, also known as the dark web. Insikt Group used the Recorded Future Platform®, proprietary tools and sourcing, as well as open sources such as international news, global non-governmental organization statements, social media accounts of the incidents occurring in Myanmar.
To protect the people of Myanmar from further persecution and violence, this report does not reveal sensitive details and forum links where the pro-democracy groups collaborate and share information.
On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military staged a government coup, arresting the democratically elected leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD). Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the military junta, stated that the November 8, 2020 election was fraudulent and that Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her elected party members were not the rightful leaders of the country. Hlaing imposed a 1 year state of emergency which would be followed by another election. The detainment of Aung Sang Suu Kyi, a popular figure within Myanmar and a symbol for Myanmar’s democracy, has led to mass protests by her supporters, with thousands of individuals taking to the streets to protest against her arrest, and other individuals taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). The protesters have been in direct conflict with security forces, and there has been escalating violence and use of force by the military in recent weeks, with over 200 civilians reported killed and over 2,100 detained. The military has also imposed strict rules, such as curfews and censorship laws, aimed at preventing the mass coordination of protests within the country. The initial days of the military coup saw the shutdown of Myanmar’s internet entirely and the ban of many popular social media applications such as Facebook. While Facebook and other social media applications have since been reinstated, there are still nightly blackouts imposed by the military when Burmese are unable to access the internet. The military censorship has not deterred Burmese from finding alternatives to amplify their pro-democracy messaging, with many turning to alternative media sources, underground networks, and downloading tools to bypass censorship restrictions to amplify their narrative.
- Myanmar’s military takeover of internet and telecommunications, and subsequent internet censorship, has led to a sharp increase in dark web use by Myanmar citizens looking to circumvent government restrictions.
- Pro-democracy protesters and activists within Myanmar have migrated from social media platforms to fringe communication platforms in an effort to circumvent censorship.
- Hacktivist groups are driving efforts to raise awareness of alternative technology to circumvent government controls and organize pro-democracy gatherings.
- Foreign influence will play a large role in the future of the Myanmar government and its people, including that of China, the US, and the UN.