A man uses Internet on a mobile phone in Yangon on June 7, 2018. (AFP)

Fact or fiction? Inside the regime’s ‘fact-checking’ team

The Myanmar junta’s “anti-disinformation team” claims to just counter fake news, but operates in cooperation with the military and police to crack down on dissidents and expose resistance groups.


When Ko Min Nyo arrives at his office every week day at 8am, he uses a ministry-provided laptop to check a range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Telegram and X, formerly known as Twitter. Despite most of these services being blocked in Myanmar, he can access them on the office WiFi, which he says is notably faster than his home internet.

“I’m happy to work for the team every day. I don’t want false information to reach the public,” he told Frontier in an interview on June 24, asking to be identified by a pseudonym because he’s not authorised to speak to the press.

“My main duty on the team is news verification.”

The anti-disinformation team operates under the Ministry of Information, which like all other ministries came under the military’s thumb following the February 2021 coup. Min Nyo was transferred to the disinformation team in 2022 but refused to specify which department he worked for previously.

The ministry has long had various teams and departments, including those overseeing state media, regulating registered news outlets, and a fact-checking team, which now appears to be defunct.

“I’m not entirely sure what the fact-checking team did before,” said Min Nyo. “That team has been replaced by the anti-disinformation team. I believe the duties and tasks are more or less the same.”

Each day, Min Nyo reads the latest news on Myanmar, reviewing local media, exile media and international outlets before sending a report to both the team leader and a permanent secretary. The former is Major-General Zaw Min Tun, the regime’s spokesperson and deputy information minister, who directly oversees Min Nyo’s five-person team.

The major-general, most famous for aggressively refuting allegations of rights abuses, is known in the office for shouting at the team members if they submit a report late.

The team also monitors the social media presence of armed resistance groups formed in response to the coup and their ethnic armed group allies, many of which have been fighting for autonomy for decades.

Facebook and other social media platforms have been banned in Myanmar since the military seized power. But the team still monitors them because many inside the country have found workarounds, and a large number of dissidents who operate from abroad also use them. Min Nyo said they don’t use any advanced technology to monitor what’s trending, they just observe social media and see what’s going viral.

While Min Nyo characterised his work as a straightforward fact-checking operation, the team also shares information with the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversee the military and police respectively. It also appears to be linked to the infamous network of pro-military Telegram channels that regularly doxxes people who criticise the regime, at times leading to arrests.

Monitoring the media

Many of Myanmar’s independent media outlets have also been forced to move abroad, after dozens of journalists were jailed and a handful killed by the regime.

Min Nyo singled out Khit Thit Media as the most inaccurate of all exile media operations. Unabashedly pro-resistance, Khit Thit has become the most followed news outlet since the coup, regularly publishing explosive scoops and inside leaks – although not all of them are substantiated.

“If we find fake news, we must report it to the team leader, who will then check with the relevant ministries. Then, we’ll label it as fake news and publish a story that counters it with true facts,” he said.

Min Nyo said the team mostly focuses on the most serious human rights allegations, like accusations that the military has killed civilians or burned down homes, both of which have been well-documented with overwhelming evidence by media outlets and human rights organisations.

“I don’t understand why people believe so easily news about the military killing civilians or burning down villages,” he said, explaining that the main way they fact-check these news reports is by merely asking the military if they’re true or not.

This is evident from state media’s typical rebuttal strategy. For instance, in the July 6 edition of the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar, a screenshot of an RFA Burmese article alleging the military detained 100 civilians and burned 12 homes in Mandalay Region’s Myingyan Township was posted with a big red X over it. GNLM said “malicious media” was spreading “fake news”.

The only evidence? “Security officials” insisted it wasn’t true.

Rebuttal of a RFA Burmese article published in The Global New Light of Myanmar on July 6.

“I think it’s just military propaganda. Everyone knows the military is always lying,” said an editor at the Ayeyarwaddy Times, an independent exile media outlet. “As an anti-disinformation team, they should provide evidence if the stories are false. Quoting a single source is not enough.”

Other than that, another priority is countering articles that mention the rising price of the US dollar, or of goods like rice and gold, which the regime typically blames on speculators and price manipulators.

“People get misinformed about the government and military by these stories. Our team has a responsibility to inform the public when stories are false and to give accurate news to the people,” Min Nyo said.

He claimed roughly half of the stories published in exile media and international media are almost completely false.

“We found that your Frontier published stories containing false information. Frontier also promotes anti-military actions. Why don’t you refer to yourself as biased media? All exile media outlets are lobbying for the NUG and supporting terrorism,” he said.

The National Unity Government is a parallel administration appointed by elected lawmakers deposed in the coup. The regime, known officially as the State Administration Council, has designated the NUG and affiliated post-coup armed groups, widely known as People’s Defence Forces, as terrorist organisations.

Min Nyo refused to explain which Frontier stories contained false information, but said exile media outlets should learn from local media about how to report the truth.

A cog in the machine

The team’s remit clearly extends beyond countering disinformation, moving into territory that could be considered doxxing or military intelligence.

Min Nyo said they monitor accounts on social media platforms run by fundraising groups, civil society groups helping internally displaced people and political prisoners, and even ordinary businesses, reporting their findings to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

A senior official from the home affairs ministry, who works closely with the disinformation team, said they have made arrests based on reports from Min Nyo’s team, such as targeting business owners who posted on social media about the economic downturn since the coup.

“Some Telegram channels urged the government to take action against these shops and companies,” said the senior official. “We are always listening to people’s voices and determining whether or not their posts violate the law. Unfortunately, we discovered that they intended to defame the government.”

Last month, at least 10 business owners were arrested and charged with incitement for mentioning the post-coup economic collapse while giving salary raises to their employees. The economy has cratered under the military regime, with the kyat losing about half its value even as the prices of every day goods soar.

The home affairs source claimed that Min Nyo is also a member of the team running the Han Nyein Oo Telegram channel, a particularly infamous pro-military social media account that previously shared revenge porn of democracy activists and directed security forces to arrest business owners participating in a strike.

Min Nyo refused to comment on the Han Nyein Oo channel, but did admit that his disinformation team sends posts from resistance groups to the Ministry of Defence for analysis, some of which are geolocated and then used to attack their positions.

The brother of a businesswoman detained last month told Frontier that his sister was arrested on June 11 and sentenced to three years in prison under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code the following day – a very unusually quick trial. Section 505(a) criminalises causing fear in the public or spreading false news.

“We got the information in advance that the military would arrest the owners who posted the salary increase letters, but my sister didn’t have time to run away or hide,” he said, claiming she wanted to help her employees and had no intention of defaming the regime.

Min Nyo said his team simply did their job by monitoring Facebook trends and reporting their findings, and made no explicit recommendations to arrest anybody.

“Arresting people is not our job; that decision can only come from the relevant ministry, probably the Ministry of Home Affairs,” he said.

Caught red-handed

In June, the junta was embroiled in a scandal after being caught fabricating news about the death of a senior monk. The revered 77-year-old Sayadaw Bhaddanta Muninandabhivamsa, from Bago town’s Win Neinmitayone monastery, was shot dead while travelling in a car to attend a religious meeting in Mandalay city. Initially, military-run media blamed resistance groups, but another monk who survived the ordeal with injuries said regime soldiers opened fire at the car unprovoked.

Because the junta was caught lying red-handed, and due to the sensitivity of offending the monkhood, the regime was forced to make a rare public apology for the incident on June 24, saying the vehicle refused to stop when ordered to. But given how routinely the military blames any civilian casualties on “PDF terrorists”, the incident further punctured its fragile narrative.

“Everyone knows who is really lying, but this time the military was forced to admit it,” said the Ayeyarwaddy Times editor.

But it appears to make little difference for those already firmly in the military’s camp. Yangon resident and military supporter Ma Khin Sandar said she believes this was just a one-time mistake, and it’s the exile media outlets that are more regularly spreading fake news.

“Exile media are publishing false stories,” she said. “I read their stories just to know what lies they are writing.”

But people like Khin Sandar are clearly in the minority. In the aftermath of the 2017 brutal crackdown on the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, the military effectively used disinformation to sway public opinion, taking advantage of widespread prejudices against the minority to win over even pro-democracy activists. But today, most of its efforts are falling on deaf ears.

A data collector for a local fact-checking group said Min Nyo’s team isn’t conducting proper disinformation work, but is spreading propaganda.

“Anti-disinformation work is not easy. They need to actually cross-check and review information to determine whether it’s accurate or not. They can’t simply declare something is inaccurate, as the military does. They need to conduct a thorough investigation from multiple perspectives first,” she said.

Min Nyo bristled at the accusation that the team was formed to cover for the military’s lies, and said while they may make mistakes sometimes, they are genuinely trying to give people access to the truth.

“Everyone can make a mistake, that’s not the same as lying or faking,” he said, despite previously accusing exile media of the same. “We’re not doing propaganda for the SAC; we’re verifying true news for the people.”

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