Fact-checkers in Myanmar tried to work this week as they usually do — but they just couldn't. A few days ago, they tried to assess whether it was true that their country's military was hoarding COVID-19 vaccines. With more than 140,000 confirmed cases, the nation saw this pandemic-related claim spreading fast on social media and messaging apps, raising alarm.
To assess that information, fact-checkers called sources and searched for data, but none were there. On Feb. 1, a military coup toppled the civilian government in Myanmar and, since then, many functionaries and citizens have been arrested or silenced. Reliable information is in short supply.
On Thursday morning (Wednesday evening in the United States), a decree from the new military government made the situation even worse. Facebook was blocked in Myanmar, cutting off fact-checkers from their main source of distribution and primary channel to communicate with their audience.
“Our audience is mainly from Facebook,” said one fact-checker contacted by the IFCN. “We have our page on other social media like Instagram, Viber and Twitter, but our chatbot, where we receive claim requests, is based on Facebook.”
This fact-checker, who asked to be kept anonymous, is also struggling with keeping staff safe. It's known in Myanmar that the military has a list of people it sought to arrest. So far, no fact-checkers have been named.
“But I’m not sure. Maybe, when they finish this first list, we’ll be on a second one,” the fact-checker said.
Despite these risks and the lack of source and data, fact-checkers seem determined to keep fighting against mis/disinformation.
“This is our responsibility for our country. Generation by generation, we are taking responsibility for our country.”
The fact-checking movement sprung up in Myanmar in the wake of that country’s 2010 transition to a more representative democratic form of government after 20 years of being ruled exclusively by the military. It's now facing another tough moment. Fact-checkers are searching for out-of-country partners to help publish their content.
The military announced it had taken over the country’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign and refuted claims they were hoarding vaccines. Fact-checkers, however, couldn't verify that either. Reliable sources are all gone.