The Revolution Will Be Transmitted: Web 2.0 and Upheaval in Burma

The Saffron Revolution in Burma (officially Myanmar) is underway, and information is flowing out of the country (and back in) at a pace unimaginable to those who remember the 1988 uprising. This, in and of itself, is a revolution in crisis communication and real-time war reporting for the cloistered Burmese nation.

Blogs, often enabled with Internet chat boxes, have become the main tools in the Burmese people’s media strategy against the misinformation (or utter lack of information) disseminated by the ruling Burmese junta. Hundreds of blogs from inside and outside Burma have been posting information in Burmese and English, hosting audio recordings translated into English, and bringing the world disturbingly graphic photos and videos of beaten and dead monks as soon as they become available. Global major news media, for one of the first times in the history of war reporting, are receiving their first-person accounts from these blogs. Media outlets then work tirelessly to verify the information with multiple sources, which is often a two- or three-day process. This information is then broadcast to the world by traditional print, audio, and video outlets.

Even more amazing than the blogs that inform Burma watchers of the horrors being committed against clergy and civilians is the path that information takes back into the country. As Burma has a very primitive internal telecommunications infrastructure, and there is no domestic freedom in news media, news of the ongoing conflict must make it outside the country before it can make it back in. Short-wave radio is the only reliable way to get information back into the country–and the only method the junta can’t block. BBC, Radio Free Asia, Democratic Voice of Burma, and Voice of America all broadcast a Burmese-language radio service into the country. By broadcasting information contained in the aforementioned blogs, these radio services inform the people inside of what we on the outside learned hours before.

Bloggers are deploying front-line reporters equipped with all the technology an imbedded journalist in Iraq might have. A Burmese refugee I know of who’s running a blog from Thailand has sent his coworker and dear friend into Burma equipped with a satellite phone. This man is risking his life to keep their blog up-to-date by getting first-hand information out with lightning speed. They now have a contact at CNN where they are sending photos and reports from inside Burma.

Web 2.0, the so-called second generation of expanded web communities and hosting services, has revolutionized the way major U.S. media outlets report news around the world. CNN now features stories collected by “iReporters,” essentially news reports created and edited by non-traditional (read: unpaid) citizen journalists who submit their news stories for Internet and television broadcast. While Web 2.0, iReporting, and even blogging may have been launched in the Western world, the Burmese are adopting these platforms with amazing efficiency–transforming their localized struggle for freedom and justice into a worldwide event broadcast live to computer screens around the globe with the click of a button.

Here is a sampling of blogs leading the struggle against disinformation in Burma: