Are we witnessing a digital revolution in Burma? Clearly the bravery of those protesting and risking their lives to press for an end to the rule of the junta in Burma is the driving force and necessary condition for change in Burma. As recent history teaches us, democracy can seldom be forced on a country by external actors. It has to grasped by those in the country, if democracy is to be more than an empty shell of institutions and legal niceties that are not observed. However, external pressure to deprive dictators of support from third countries is clearly a necessary condition if regimes are to fall under pressure from our natural desire for freedom.
It is therefore interesting to see how the internet is being used this time around to help make the second condition a reality. It is of course a cheap, quick and effective way of disseminating information and, due to social media tools, of grouping together likeminded people for a cause. For the world to apply pressure on Burma, information on the situation on the ground is needed. Due to reporting restrictions imposed by the junta, most reports coming out of the country appear to be coming via the internet. Not only does this reporting restrict the room for manoeuvre of the generals but it applies pressure on our own elected representative to act.
Secondly, pressure groups have been mobilising support for the people of Burma online. In addition to the sites of established free Burma pressure groups, an online petition has sprung up at www.avaaz.org with around 180,000 people already signed up. Activists in Europe and the US have teamed up on the Facebook group “Support the Monks’ protest in Burma”, currently a shade under 80,000 members. On the group you will find the latest reports on the situation on the ground, updated every few minutes by members, as well as a checklist of activities you can do in support (including wearing a red t-shirt today) . Over the weekend, there is a long list of protests planned and a 24 hour hunger strike suggested for Monday. Companies investing in Burma are also under the spotlight as are of course the Chinese, generally perceived to be the main prop for the military in the country.
Clearly the generals and the people have Burma will have the final say in how this plays out, but internet activism may have a role in conditioning the position taken by the developed world.