This week the people of Myanmar experienced the largest and deadliest crackdown on peaceful protestors across the country. As of March 3, 2021 an estimated 40 deaths were recorded across the country.
As we have done for the past four weeks, we at Vero have gathered developments and recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands.
Misinformation and Disinformation
A chain of tea houses from Taiwan corrected misinformation spreading on social media about its ownership. The company clarified that it originates from Taiwan and has US-based investors – and further clarified that it has no links to the military.
A global music streaming service has also been falsely accused of having connections to family members of senior military figures. Netizens are encouraging people to uninstall the application and give it a 1-star rating on app stores, and it has been added to the Way Way Nay (Stay Away) application that lists all military-owned or affiliated businesses in Myanmar. The service has not yet made a statement in response.
Brands and Influencers
Netizens continue to push back and threaten boycotts of brands connected with influencers who appear aligned with the military or have not shown support for the protest movement. Netizens are carefully monitoring which brands are complying, and removing content created in collaboration with influencers who hold military links. Netizens are also monitoring those brands who continue to maintain relationships and content with influencers who have fallen out of favor.
One influencer under constant social media criticism is a lifestyle and beauty influencer whose father is apparently an ex-military official. Her silence in the first week of the coup and her father’s condemnation of CDM participants has enraged netizens, resulting in boycotts of the influencer, businesses she owns, and brands that work with her. Although she has since spoken against the military, she also continues to boast of her expensive purchases, lavish dinners, and activities outside of the movement that netizens have discovered and leaked online. Following immense pressure from netizens, a smartphone brand announced the termination of her contract as brand ambassador.
News & media
A total of 28 journalists who were gathering news at protests have been detained by police. The Irrawaddy News, a bilingual news outlet, has issued a statement urging that all violence against journalists must end immediately and that arrested journalists be released. They have called upon the international community to act to support Myanmar journalists.
About two dozen independent media have come together to publish a joint statement condemning the media directive issued by the military and saying that it is illegal under the 2008 New Media Law. The statement is the first of its kind in Myanmar. As of this morning, 56 independent media publications have joined this statement expressing their conviction to continue writing, broadcasting, and reporting content and news using terms that they deem correct and ethical.
Top-tier independent media such as 7 Day News, Frontier Myanmar, The Irrawaddy, The Voice Myanmar, Mizzima News, Myanmar Now, and DVB are among those in support of the statement. Eleven Media, previously criticized for writing news in favor of the military junta, has also signed the statement.
Media channels in rural areas have also supported the statement, including Kachin Waves, Mekong News, The Monywa Gazette, Myitkyina News Journal, and many more.
All media that support the statement do so, we believe, despite the risk of retaliation or loss of their license.
The Myanmar Times, which has suspended operations for the next 3 months after a staff revolt, is not on the list. It also does not include the notable top-tier channel The Standard Time.
Brands and protestors
Netizens are now calling for boycotts on brands whose staff have refused to help protestors trying to escape police crackdowns. Many protestors flee to nearby malls, restaurants, and shops to hide from the police. One beauty brand was caught in the fray when its staff shut the doors to protestors seeking shelter. The brand later apologized.
Netizens are encouraging the boycott of FMCG brands that have been caught selling food to security forces. They are also boycotting hospitals that are refusing to help injured protestors or shut their doors.
Meanwhile, the largest retailer in Myanmar has continued to show support for protestors. When the crackdown began, security guards ushered protestors to hide inside the market and closed their steel gates so that the police couldn’t get in. Many netizens applauded the brand and the staff for supporting the movement and protestors since the beginning of the coup.
Another example, a major shopping mall, is being commended for helping protestors hide on the higher floors, and netizens are asking communities to shop at these malls and stores.
Woodside, the Australian energy company, became the latest foreign investor to pull out of Myanmar, saying that it “condemns human rights violations,” and would be demobilizing its offshore exploration drilling team in the coming weeks.
While there have been many new developments in the situation in the past week, the atmosphere continues to be extremely volatile. Our overall recommendations remain the same, but their priority has changed.
Make a positive contribution: It is imperative that brands and leaders make an effort to contribute to Myanmar’s future. Brands are now expected to provide support to the protest movement and those affected by the coup, and those that stay silent or neutral may be boycotted by netizens.
There are myriad ways brands can contribute to ensure people’s basic needs are being met, including in areas of healthcare, education, independent journalism, and support for small businesses. Rather than staying on the sidelines, we strongly recommend taking a service-minded approach and seeking ways to be useful to the public.
Plan for disinformation attacks: Brands should program social listening tools and media monitoring tools to pick up disinformation regarding potential risk area, such as ties to the military, statements by executives or rumors related to corporate policy. The sooner brands can identify a disinformation attack, the sooner it can be corrected and halted.
Support local independent media: Another way for brands to help is to support independent local media by advertising with them.
Advise brand ambassadors and influencers: Brands in partnerships with influencers should monitor sentiments around them and provide them with expertise on crafting their social media statements to avoid backlash.
Support your employees: Consider how to position yourself with regards to your employees demonstrating during business hours. There is a significant chance that many of your employees will want to participate in the massive demonstrations taking part in Myanmar, and they will expect you to support them. Failure to outline clearly how you will do so may lead to backlash.
Means of support include providing paid time off, information on the best ways to protect oneself while protesting, and safety equipment for those who plan to protest goggles, umbrellas, raincoats, and gloves, as well as face masks and sanitizers for virus protection.
Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in person and online.