Conference on 'Digital populism and digital authoritarianism'

The paper contextualises and discusses the evolution of digital authoritarianism and state surveillance in Myanmar. Over the short span of a decade Myanmar has rapidly morphed from being one of Southeast Asia’s most isolated countries in terms of ICT development and connectivity to one where both authorities and the population rely on a variety of digital technologies for both preserving power and challenging it. The paper primarily focuses on the 2021-2023 period, when the military coup brought the rapid if uneven and unequal changes introduced since 2011 to a brutal and bloody end. Empirically, the focus of this paper is on the interaction between three sets of actors (the regime and its affiliated companies and agencies; external state patrons; and international private security companies) to shed light on how different tools of state control, surveillance and repression are currently being deployed. The paper also discusses the various legislative initiatives (such as the draft cyber security law) the military regime is planning to introduce to restrict the use of internet and social media by the opposition, restrict the digital rights of the population and to crack down on the challenges posed by a digitally-enabled resistance movement.
While some of the changes were introduced after the military take-over, some of the instruments of state surveillance were introduced prior to it, during the NLD administration (2016-2021). Furthermore, it is impossible to understand the trajectory of transformation in Myanmar, even in the media landscape and rights and freedoms, without taking into account some specific colonial legacies, including legislation introduced in the first part of the 20th century such as the 1923 Official Secrets Act to censor debates, which most post-independence governments have been all too eager to deploy to prevent challenges to their authority.
Moving beyond the deployment of state surveillance technology to stifle debate and limit dissent, the paper also considers the challenges to digital authoritarianism in the country. Digital authoritarianism is, in fact, only one dimension of the transformation of state and society engendered by advances in information and communication technology. Digital contention has also accompanied societal changes over the past decade. While some of these have been rather infamous (such as the rise in hate speech and Islamophobia), others have been empowering and extremely consequential in enabling and supporting the resistance against the 2021 military coup.
Period30 Jan 2023
Held atSejong Institute, Korea, Republic of
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Myanmar
  • military
  • authoritarianism
  • digital
  • populism
  • surveillance