Report says Myanmar internet a 'virtual battlefield'

FILE - In this May 12, 2021, file photo, anti-coup protesters march during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Myanmars military rulers are seeking to limit access to the internet to an internal network of only whitelisted sites to quash widespread opposition to their seizure of power, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this May 12, 2021, file photo, anti-coup protesters march during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Myanmars military rulers are seeking to limit access to the internet to an internal network of only whitelisted sites to quash widespread opposition to their seizure of power, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. (AP Photo, File) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BANGKOK – Myanmar’s military rulers are seeking to limit access to the internet to an internal network of only “whitelisted” sites to quash opposition to their seizure of power, according to a report by the International Crisis Group.

It likened the internet to a “virtual battlefield" where the military is struggling to gain an edge because it lacks technological capacity, while social media companies like Facebook have banned military officials and many government agencies.

The report released Tuesday noted a narrowing of the leeway for online dissent and abuses of social media to spread hatred toward minority Muslim people in western Myanmar's Rakhine under Aung San Suu Kyi,'s elected government, which was ousted in a Feb. 1 coup. Since then, authorities have imposed nightly internet outages and sought to limit access to social media platforms.

International telecoms companies such as Norway's Telenor and other businesses have protested the moves, which they say are crippling business activity and have undone years of progress toward integrating Myanmar into the world economy.

The coup interrupted a faltering, decade-long move toward a civilian, democratically elected government after decades of military rule that began soon after the country, also known as Burma, gained independence from Britain.

It incensed a generation of young Myanmar people who grew up in relative freedom, with access to cell phones, social media and the internet as the country leapfrogged into the mobile age, with heavy reliance on internet services commonly found in wealthier countries.

The junta has ordered mobile operators and internet service providers to restrict access to certain websites and virtual private networks, or VPNs, that can skirt internet filtering. It is gradually ramping up shutdowns, limiting access to only fiber data connections which are available to only a fraction of the population.

Many tech-savvy young people are involved in the civil disobedience movement against the coup and the military lacks the sort of capabilities that China has developed over the past several decades, enabling it to police the internet and ban access to certain sites, the International Crisis Group report says.