Myanmar is known for the decade-long armed conflict, and military dictatorship, which has hampered the democratic freedom of the country, since its independence. Myanmar’s history of despotic education policies and harsh censorship had not favoured civics and democracy knowledge or education for the people of Myanmar.
Generations raised in those days are now casting their votes. They are also being exposed to intense political and social debates on social media. Myanmar people aged between 18 and 44 years are among the most active social media users in the country and makeup 22 out of 25 million Facebook users in Myanmar, with a total population of 54 million. This generation of people has not been afforded a deep-rooted civic understanding. Consequently, debate perpetuates mistrust among different communities, undermining social harmony and the democratic transition.
Several civil society organisations and individual active citizens aim to empower people with civic and democracy knowledge through informal training and awareness-raising activities. Since 2017, Pandita Development Institute (Pandita), has introduced Civics Now, a social media platform-based activity to promote active learning, democracy, and its political process. It is a Facebook page where reasonable and constructive debate among those aged 18-44 years celebrates.
Civics Now, Pandita’s social media page for publishing democracy knowledge, started a campaign for understanding democracy in October 2018. The focus of this campaign was to commit to weekly posts about democracy related issues and topics, for 80 consecutive weeks. This commitment was a challenge not only for Pandita but also for the audience. In May 2020, Pandita evaluated the audience responses and received positive findings regarding Civics Now’s approach. Here provide some findings of learning democracy on social media in Myanmar.
Out of the busy news feeds with appealing photos, funny memes, and breaking news, does the audience reach and engage in civic education contents?
Over eighteen months, the Civics Now’s campaign effectively published 80 articles and reached 3,909,921 Facebook users across Myanmar. Each post, discussing fundamental knowledge and practices for democracy, reached an average of 48,874 people, despite limited human and financial resources for the activity. On average, each article engaged 3,491 readers and 279,284 in total.
Is it efficient to promote civic education contents towards thousands of social media users? What are the secrets of high reach and engagement?
Pandita paid 10 US dollars to promote each post; thus, only 0.035 US dollars is spent on each engagement form the audience. Amazingly, the whole campaign had cost 800 US Dollars for Facebook promotion, all other costs and efforts are made by voluntary and local contributions.
According to Pandita’s experience, the following factors are significant for the success of any social media campaign:
- understanding target audience and their nature,
- designing and creating quality contents, and
- regular and strategic communication with the audience.
Furthermore, investing in committed, passionate, and competent locals is another ingredient in establishing and maintaining a relationship with active and committed fans.
How is it possible to know the quality of the engagement, and how the audience responds?
Civics Now’s engagement quality is evident in the audience’s reactions, comments, and post-sharing on account timelines or owned groups. On average, each post is shared 390 times. For the entire campaign, there were 31,215 shares of content to spread knowledge on democracy among their families, friends, and communities. Some audience requested to use the content for their book club’s discussions, and as teaching material for their voluntary civic education training.
During the campaign, the audience experienced the value of tolerance to different ideas and beliefs across diverse communities; thus, contributing to a healthy democratic culture. Committed and active fans even recommended the contents to be published in hard copy. From now on, the 80 weekly content collection is available on the Civics Now Facebook page.
Are there any recommendations for improved impacts of online and social media civic education activities?
Promoting accessibility of opportunities to learn and resources for civic and democracy education in Myanmar is a long journey ahead. To promise the more significant impacts of civic education on social media and online:
- It is important to explore innovative approaches and solutions to reach specific target groups, like political parties, persons with disabilities, voluntary civic educators, etc.
- It needs to mobilise more resources, including human resources, funds, and cooperation, to expand the reach, engagement, and impacts.
- It is essential to consider more online media platforms in future civic awareness activities.
This article is an abridged version of our report – with more detailed facts and figures – for Civics Now fans in Burmese. Currently, Civics Now Facebook page, followed by over 330,000 fans from all 14 states and regions in Myanmar. Besides, it even reaches those who migrated into neighbouring countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, China, Vietnam, etc.