Technology and solidarity won’t save Myanmar’s protesters

Young Burmese are using tech to organize against a military coup, but the junta has powerful tools to silence them.

The first Saturday evening after the coup, Nandar sat in her Yangon apartment playing the guitar. At 8 p.m., the streets resonated with the sound of thousands of pots and pans being banged in unison, a ritual of exorcism that has become a nightly tradition since the Burmese military took power in the early hours of February 1. Sometime later, there was a new clamor, clapping and cheering, so Nandar, a feminist activist and podcaster, went down to the street to ask what was going on. She was told that Aung San Suu Kyi had been released.

Suu Kyi, the state councilor and de facto democratic leader of the country, had been taken into custody on the morning of the coup and later charged with owning illegal walkie-talkies, among other crimes designed to add a veneer of legality to her arrest. If the rumors of release were true, it would have been a turning point in the turmoil of the past week: a glimmer of hope that the military might be willing to loosen its grip on power.

“I didn’t buy it,” Nandar said. The news was indeed a hoax, a way for the military junta to try to take control of the narrative in the face of a growing campaign of civil disobedience. Spread during an internet blackout — the second of the week — that cut access to independent news outlets and social media, the rumor seemed designed to take momentum out of the movement by making people believe they had scored a victory. “I think it was, in a way, to disturb our sleep,” Nandar said. “So that the next day, we would not feel as strong.”

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