Organic online politics: Farmers, Facebook, and Myanmar's military coup

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningfagfællebedømt


Despite perennial hope in the democratic possibilities of the internet, the rise of digital authoritarianism threatens online and offline freedom across much of the world. Yet while critical data studies has expanded its geographic focus, limited work to date has examined digital mobilization in the agrarian communities that comprise much of the Global South. This article advances the concept of “organic online politics,” to demonstrate how digital mobilization grows from specific rural conditions, material concerns, and repertoires of resistance, within the constraints of authoritarian violence and internet control. To do so, we examine social media interaction in the wake of the 2021 military coup in Myanmar, an agrarian nation with recent, rapid digital connection that corresponded with a decade-long democratic turn. Analyzing an original archive of over 2000 Facebook posts collected from popular farming pages and groups, we find a massive drop-off in online activity after the military coup and analyze the shifting temporalities of digital mobilization. Crucially, we highlight the embeddedness of online interaction within the material concerns of farming communities, examining how social media become a key forum for negotiating political crisis in Myanmar's countryside. These findings call attention to rural digital subcultures as fertile sites of investigation and point toward the need for future scholarship on data practices that attends to rooted agrarian struggles.

TidsskriftBig Data and Society
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)1-16
Antal sider16
StatusUdgivet - 2023

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
To advance our argument, we analyze an original dataset of popular content from 210 Myanmar Facebook pages and groups related to agriculture, collected in the months before and after the 2021 military coup. Data collection and analysis were funded by a grant from Facebook Research on digital literacy, demographics and misinformation, given upfront to our partner, a Myanmar civil society organization, as an unrestricted grant with no reporting requirements. While we are grateful for financial support, particularly to Myanmar research assistants and activists in the wake of the military coup, we also acknowledge that the grant likely served a public relations purpose for Facebook, particularly in light of international scrutiny on the platform's role in the Rohingya genocide. Scholars, activists, and human rights groups have called particular attention to Facebook's role in fomenting violence () and complicity with acts of ethnic cleansing committed by the Myanmar military against Rohingya minorities (). Facebook had no oversight or control over our research process and has not reviewed our analysis. We undertook this project as critical scholars interested in rural internet use, assessing a full range of relevant content with interpretation informed by over 60 hours of discussion among a diverse research team with substantial local knowledge and experience. Our authorial team is comprised of five interdisciplinary social scientists, including two born in Myanmar, with a combined 25 years of research experience on democracy, agriculture and human rights in Myanmar. Throughout our collaboration, we sought to foster engaged and reflexive dialogue in navigating the ethical implications of conducting research on an increasingly dangerous internet as a research team funded with an independent grant from the platform that we sought to study. We are grateful to additional research assistants in Myanmar, who not only collected and coded Facebook posts, but also provided insights from the ground in discussions immediately following the coup. This collective positionality, briefly sketched here, points to the power of rooting analysis of digital mobilization in longer research with local communities.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.

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