Twitter Launches Pro-Democracy Emoji for ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ in Asia

 Smoke rises from tires set alight by anti-coup protesters on April 03, 2021 in Yangon, Myanmar.

Smoke rises from tires set alight by anti-coup protesters on April 03, 2021 in Yangon, Myanmar.
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

Twitter launched a new emoji early Thursday that will appear anytime a user tweets the hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance. The so-called Milk Tea Alliance refers to the pro-democracy movement in Asia that has been organized, at least in part, through actions online.

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“To celebrate the first anniversary of the #MilkTeaAlliance we designed an emoji featuring 3 different types of milk tea colors from regions where the Alliance first formed online,” the social media company tweeted from its account dedicated to public policy.

The Milk Tea Alliance includes Hong Kong, where activists are fighting for the preservation of some autonomy from the Chinese Communist Party; Myanmar, where a military coup in February ousted the democratically elected government; Taiwan, a country whose sovereignty comes under constant threat from Beijing; and Thailand, where the monarchy is further restricting civil rights.

“We have seen more than 11 million Tweets featuring the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag over the past year. Conversations peaked when it first appeared in April 2020, and again in February 2021 when the coup took place in Myanmar,” Twitter continued.

Security forces in Myanmar have killed over 600 civilians since the military coup earlier this year, including 11 people on Wednesday alone, according to the latest reports. At least 40 children have been killed by the junta, based on reporting by the New York Times, with one child as young as 10 slain by the brutal regime.

In its announcement, Twitter also pointed to other emojis developed to support social change, including emojis for the hashtags #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. Halfway through its tweet thread about the new emoji, Twitter more explicitly called for internet access to be maintained in places experiencing civil unrest and brutal government crackdowns.

“During times of civil unrests or violent crackdowns, it is more important than ever for the public to have access to the #OpenInternet for real-time updates, credible information, and essential services. #KeepitOn,” Twitter tweeted.

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One of the first things the military regime did after taking control of Myanmar in February was shut off Facebook in the country. And social media access has been highly disrupted ever since.

“Twitter recognizes that the #OpenInternet is increasingly under threat around the world. We strongly believe that having access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential right and remain a staunch defender and advocate of free expression and condemn #InternetShutdowns,” Twitter continued.

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Facebook Finally Bans Myanmar Military After Feb. 1 Coup

A friend of Myanmar protester Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who died after being shot during a rally against the military coup, looks at pictures of her on a phone during a memorial service in Naypyidaw on February 25, 2021.

A friend of Myanmar protester Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who died after being shot during a rally against the military coup, looks at pictures of her on a phone during a memorial service in Naypyidaw on February 25, 2021.
Photo: STR/AFP (Getty Images)

Facebook finally banned the military in Myanmar, known as Tatmadaw, from the social media platform several weeks after the military staged a coup that toppled the democratically elected government. The ban on the country’s military includes Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

“Events since the February 1 coup, including deadly violence, have precipitated a need for this ban. We believe the risks of allowing the Tatmadaw on Facebook and Instagram are too great,” Rafael Frankel, director of policy for the Asia-Pacific region, said in a statement posted online late Wednesday.

“We’re also prohibiting Tatmadaw-linked commercial entities from advertising on the platform,” Frankel continued. “We are using the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s 2019 report, on the economic interests of the Tatmadaw, as the basis to guide these efforts, along with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These bans will remain in effect indefinitely.”

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Facebook has already taken down military-connected pages like Tatmadaw True News Information Team, MRTV, and MRTV Live since the coup earlier this month.

Facebook’s statement doesn’t mention the 20-year-old protester, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who was shot in the head during an anti-coup protest in Myanmar and later died in the hospital, but that event has attracted condemnation from around the world.

The Myanmar government is currently being run by the military, but Facebook made sure to stress that certain parts of government that are vital to public health and wellbeing, such as the Ministry of Health and Sport and the Ministry of Education, will not be affected by the new ban.

Facebook is tremendously popular in Myanmar and one of the first things the military government did after taking power was to ban the social media platform. Service has been highly restricted ever since, with Netblocks reporting that Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram are all currently down.

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Facebook came under heavy criticism after the platform was used to incite genocide in Myanmar in 2018 but the company insisted on Wednesday that it held the military to the same standards as everyone else. The new statement lists four factors that caused Facebook to make this decision:

  1. The Tatmadaw’s history of exceptionally severe human rights abuses and the clear risk of future military-initiated violence in Myanmar, where the military is operating unchecked and with wide-ranging powers.
  2. The Tatmadaw’s history of on-platform content and behavior violations that led to us repeatedly enforcing our policies to protect our community.
  3. Ongoing violations by the military and military-linked accounts and Pages since the February 1 coup, including efforts to reconstitute networks of Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior that we previously removed, and content that violates our violence and incitement and coordinating harm policies, which we removed.
  4. The coup greatly increases the danger posed by the behaviors above, and the likelihood that online threats could lead to offline harm.

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The difficult part to understand, of course, is why points one, two, and four in the list weren’t enough for a ban on February 1 or earlier. The word “history” is used in points one and two, an implicit acknowledgement that none of this is new.

Optimists are fond of saying “better late than never,” but that’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re talking about things like genocide and military coups. But, better late than never, Facebook.

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Facebook to Restrict Content From Myanmar’s Military Government Following Coup

Protesters wearing traditional Shan dress make the three-figner salute as others hold signs during a demonstration against the Myanmar military coup in Inle Lake, Shan state on February 11, 2021.

Protesters wearing traditional Shan dress make the three-figner salute as others hold signs during a demonstration against the Myanmar military coup in Inle Lake, Shan state on February 11, 2021.
Photo: Calito/AFP (Getty Images)

Facebook has pledged to restrict the widespread distribution of content from Myanmar’s military regime following a successful coup that toppled the democratically elected government on Feb. 1. The pledge comes from a new blog post at Facebook’s website that seems to implicitly acknowledge the potential for authoritarians to use the social media platform in horrendous ways.

“Facebook is treating the situation in Myanmar as an emergency. Our Integrity Operations Center has been running around the clock since the coup began,” Rafael Frankel, the director of policy for Facebook’s Asia-Pacific team, wrote late Thursday.

“It brings together subject matter experts from across the company, including Myanmar nationals with native language skills, so we can monitor and respond to any threats in real time,” Frankel continued.

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Frankel explained that the Myanmar military, known as Tatmadaw, had been spreading misinformation since the coup and Facebook would be dramatically reducing the spread of that content, while not banning it altogether.

From the Facebook announcement:

In line with our global policies on repeat offenders of misinformation, we will also no longer be recommending them to people. Among other military-run accounts, these measures apply to the Tatmadaw Information Team’s Facebook Page and to Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun’s Facebook account. This same action will be applied to any additional pages that the military controls that repeatedly violate our misinformation policies.

We have also indefinitely suspended the ability for Myanmar government agencies to send content removal requests to Facebook through our normal channels reserved for authorities around the world.

Frankel also pledged to protect the political speech of activists, journalists, and ordinary people in Myanmar, something that could be difficult to maintain given the current government’s hostility to an open web. Facebook also said it would help anyone in Myanmar “who reasonably fears detention” to “secure their Facebook accounts and data from unauthorized access.” The company didn’t immediately explain how it planned to do that, though presumably it would entail simply not handing over information to the government that Facebook has on people and organizations.

Facebook took a lot of heat back in 2018 for at least partially enabling the genocide of Rohingya Muslims that was being perpetrated by the same military that now controls the country. If there’s any silver lining in all of this it’s that the social media giant has hopefully learned how to better control the spigots of hate and misinformation on its platform to minimize the damage in Myanmar.

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But it all raises the obvious question of why Facebook would have to do anything special during an emergency situation like this. If misinformation and hate speech is a problem, why not take care of that during normal times as well? It seems to be an eternal question for companies like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. But we may never get a straight answer.

Myanmar’s New Government Blocks Facebook After Military Coup

Military vehicles take position on a blockaded road near Myanmar’s Parliament in Naypyidaw on February 4, 2021.

Military vehicles take position on a blockaded road near Myanmar’s Parliament in Naypyidaw on February 4, 2021.
Photo: STR/AFP (Getty Images)

Myanmar’s new government has ordered internet providers in the country to block Facebook in an attempt to quell dissent following a successful military coup earlier this week, according to internet-monitoring service NetBlocks and internet company Telenor Myanmar.

Roughly half of Myanmar’s population of 55 million people use Facebook, according to Burmese news site Irrawaddy, and those people are currently being redirected to a landing page explaining that the government has banned the site. It’s not yet clear how long the ban will last.

Telenor Myanmar, a local internet provider with headquarters in Norway, confirmed to Gizmodo early Thursday it had been told by the military government it needed to block Facebook.

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“All mobile operators, international gateways and internet service providers in Myanmar received a directive on 3 February 2021 from the Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) to temporarily block social media service Facebook,” a spokesperson from Telenor told Gizmodo in an emailed statement.

“While the directive has legal basis in Myanmar law, Telenor does not believe that the request is based on necessity and proportionality, in accordance with international human rights law,” the statement continued. “Telenor Myanmar has decided to comply with the directive on 4 February 2021, while expressing grave concerns regarding breach of human rights.”

There are reportedly outages of WhatsApp and Instagram as well, though Telenor could not confirm the company had been asked to block any sites beyond Facebook.

The democratically elected government of Myanmar was ousted in a military coup on Monday and civilian leaders were placed under arrest. Aung San Suu Kyi, who became Myanmar’s highest ranking leader in 2016, faces bizarre charges of owning illegally acquired walkie talkies. Early reports on Wednesday alleged that she’d be tried for treason, but that charge has not been formally levied by the new military government. At least not yet.

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Terms like “democracy,” “stay at home movement,” and “Save Myanmar” have all been popular on Burmese social media over the past few days, which obviously would make military authorities in Myanmar quite nervous. Internet providers in Myanmar are not happy about blocking Facebook but there’s not much they can do at this point following a military coup.

“Telenor Group believes in open communication,” the company said in a statement to Gizmodo. “Together with Telenor Myanmar we are actively looking to restore access to Facebook as soon as possible.”

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Why Are Protestors in Myanmar Doing the Hunger Games Three-Finger Salute?

Medical staff makes a three finger salute with a red ribbons on their uniform at the Yangon General Hospital in Yangon on February 3, 2021.

Medical staff makes a three finger salute with a red ribbons on their uniform at the Yangon General Hospital in Yangon on February 3, 2021.
Photo: STR/AFP (Getty Images)

Medical staff at Yangon General Hospital in Myanmar posed for a group photo on Wednesday, raising three fingers in a salute of resistance after Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of the country, was ousted in a military coup on Monday.

The salute will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the Hunger Games movies, a film franchise starring Jennifer Lawrence where oppressed people stand up against an authoritarian ruling class, and that’s no coincidence. Plucked from dystopian science fiction, the Hunger Games salute has spread across Southeast Asia in the past decade as a symbol of pro-democracy protest.

The three-fingered salute first gained traction in Thailand, Myanmar’s neighbor to the southeast, when protesters started utilizing the salute after the May 2014 military coup. By June, the ruling military junta in Thailand banned the salute, which military leaders recognized from the popular films.

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Illustration for article titled Why Are Protestors in Myanmar Doing the iHunger Games/i Three-Finger Salute?

Screenshot: The Hunger Games (2012)

When the third movie in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay: Part 1, was released in November of 2014, pro-democracy students showed up to Thai theaters that were showing the new film and proudly gave the salute, only to be escorted out and detained by undercover police.

Some movie theaters in Thailand stopped showing the new Hunger Games movie, for fear of appearing political, but the students were undeterred and more protesters appeared knowing full well they’d be arrested. Word got back to the Hunger Games filmmakers in Hollywood, who were both thrilled and concerned that the salute was being adopted by potentially vulnerable people overseas.

“Part of it is sort of thrilling that something that happens in the movie can become a symbol for people, for freedom or protest,” director Francis Lawrence told Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald newspaper in 2014. “When people are getting arrested for doing something from your movie, it’s troubling.”

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An unidentified Thai student flashes a three-finger salute as she is escorted out of a movie theater by plainclothes police officers in Bangkok, Thailand on November 20, 2014.

An unidentified Thai student flashes a three-finger salute as she is escorted out of a movie theater by plainclothes police officers in Bangkok, Thailand on November 20, 2014.
Photo: Christophe Archambault/AFP (Getty Images)

From Thailand the salute spread to Hong Kong, where the Umbrella Revolution was in full swing by the time the new Hunger Games movie was released in November 2014. Hong Kong activists commonly used umbrellas as shields against tear gas canisters deployed by police and, perhaps more importantly, as a way to hide their identities from ubiquitous surveillance cameras.

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The demonstrators in Hong Kong were frustrated by Beijing’s increasing influence in the city, which had operated on a “one country, two systems” principle with political leadership in mainland China after the former British colony was returned. And the protesters proudly raised their three-fingered salute whenever they got the chance to show solidarity.

Supporters of the pro-democracy movement flash the three-finger salute from the The Hunger Games as a trailer of the movie is shown on the exterior screen of a theater in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong on November 28, 2014.

Supporters of the pro-democracy movement flash the three-finger salute from the The Hunger Games as a trailer of the movie is shown on the exterior screen of a theater in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong on November 28, 2014.
Photo: Philippe Lopez (Getty Images)

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Today, the three fingered salute is spreading in Myanmar, a symbol of resistance against a military coup that ousted democratically elected members of government on Monday, including controversial State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The leader will be tried by the new military government for treason, according to new reports from Myanmar on Wednesday, which could mean the death penalty.

Popular culture often finds its way into protest movements around the world and Myanmar is just the latest resistance movement to latch on to symbols from Tinseltown. The Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous movements of the early 2010s often had protesters donning a Guy Fawkes mask, inspired by the 2005 movie V For Vendetta. Despite the anti-corporate bent of both protest movements, media giant Time Warner was reportedly making a lot of money from masks sales.

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“We sell over 100,000 of these masks a year, and it’s by far the best-selling mask that we sell,” one costume supply company told the New York Times back in 2011.

More recently, comic character Pepe the Frog was adopted as a mascot for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong during the 2019 uprising against Beijing, a reclamation of the character from far right elements online who had adopted it as a symbol of hate.

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 Thai pro-democracy protesters sell cookies featuring a three-finger salute on December 10, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Thai pro-democracy protesters sell cookies featuring a three-finger salute on December 10, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Photo: Lauren DeCicca (Getty Images)

No one really knows what the future holds for the Burmese people, with the military in charge for at least the next year, according to the ruling regime. But if you see someone from Myanmar or Thailand or Hong Kong making the Hunger Games salute, it’s no accident.

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They want freedom. And they’re raising three fingers to let you know they need it now.

Why Are People in Myanmar Doing the Hunger Games Three-Finger Salute?

Medical staff makes a three finger salute with a red ribbons on their uniform at the Yangon General Hospital in Yangon on February 3, 2021.

Medical staff makes a three finger salute with a red ribbons on their uniform at the Yangon General Hospital in Yangon on February 3, 2021.
Photo: STR/AFP (Getty Images)

Medical staff at Yangon General Hospital in Myanmar posed for a group photo on Wednesday, raising three fingers in a salute of resistance after Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of the country, was ousted in a military coup on Monday.

The salute will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the Hunger Games movies, a film franchise starring Jennifer Lawrence where oppressed people stand up against an authoritarian ruling class, and that’s no coincidence. Plucked from dystopian science fiction, the Hunger Games salute has spread across Southeast Asia in the past decade as a symbol of pro-democracy protest.

The three-fingered salute first gained traction in Thailand, Myanmar’s neighbor to the southeast, when protesters started utilizing the salute after the May 2014 military coup. By June, the ruling military junta in Thailand banned the salute, which military leaders recognized from the popular films.

Advertisement

Illustration for article titled Why Are People in Myanmar Doing the iHunger Games/i Three-Finger Salute?

Screenshot: The Hunger Games (2012)

When the third movie in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay: Part 1, was released in November of 2014, pro-democracy students showed up to Thai theaters that were showing the new film and proudly gave the salute, only to be escorted out and detained by undercover police.

Some movie theaters in Thailand stopped showing the new Hunger Games movie, for fear of appearing political, but the students were undeterred and more protesters appeared knowing full well they’d be arrested. Word got back to the Hunger Games filmmakers in Hollywood, who were both thrilled and concerned that the salute was being adopted by potentially vulnerable people overseas.

“Part of it is sort of thrilling that something that happens in the movie can become a symbol for people, for freedom or protest,” director Francis Lawrence told Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald newspaper in 2014. “When people are getting arrested for doing something from your movie, it’s troubling.”

Advertisement

An unidentified Thai student flashes a three-finger salute as she is escorted out of a movie theater by plainclothes police officers in Bangkok, Thailand on November 20, 2014.

An unidentified Thai student flashes a three-finger salute as she is escorted out of a movie theater by plainclothes police officers in Bangkok, Thailand on November 20, 2014.
Photo: Christophe Archambault/AFP (Getty Images)

From Thailand the salute spread to Hong Kong, where the Umbrella Revolution was in full swing by the time the new Hunger Games movie was released in November 2014. Hong Kong activists commonly used umbrellas as shields against tear gas canisters deployed by police and, perhaps more importantly, as a way to hide their identities from ubiquitous surveillance cameras.

Advertisement

The demonstrators in Hong Kong were frustrated by Beijing’s increasing influence in the city, which had operated on a “one country, two systems” principle with political leadership in mainland China after the former British colony was returned. And the protesters proudly raised their three-fingered salute whenever they got the chance to show solidarity.

Supporters of the pro-democracy movement flash the three-finger salute from the The Hunger Games as a trailer of the movie is shown on the exterior screen of a theater in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong on November 28, 2014.

Supporters of the pro-democracy movement flash the three-finger salute from the The Hunger Games as a trailer of the movie is shown on the exterior screen of a theater in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong on November 28, 2014.
Photo: Philippe Lopez (Getty Images)

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Today, the three fingered salute is spreading in Myanmar, a symbol of resistance against a military coup that ousted democratically elected members of government on Monday, including controversial State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The leader will be tried by the new military government for treason, according to new reports from Myanmar on Wednesday, which could mean the death penalty.

Popular culture often finds its way into protest movements around the world and Myanmar is just the latest resistance movement to latch on to symbols from Tinseltown. The Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous movements of the early 2010s often had protesters donning a Guy Fawkes mask, inspired by the 2005 movie V For Vendetta. Despite the anti-corporate bent of both protest movements, media giant Time Warner was reportedly making a lot of money from masks sales.

Advertisement

“We sell over 100,000 of these masks a year, and it’s by far the best-selling mask that we sell,” one costume supply company told the New York Times back in 2011.

More recently, comic character Pepe the Frog was adopted as a mascot for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong during the 2019 uprising against Beijing, a reclamation of the character from far right elements online who had adopted it as a symbol of hate.

Advertisement

 Thai pro-democracy protesters sell cookies featuring a three-finger salute on December 10, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Thai pro-democracy protesters sell cookies featuring a three-finger salute on December 10, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Photo: Lauren DeCicca (Getty Images)

No one really knows what the future holds for the Burmese people, with the military in charge for at least the next year, according to the ruling regime. But if you see someone from Myanmar or Thailand or Hong Kong making the Hunger Games salute, it’s no accident.

Advertisement

They want freedom. And they’re raising three fingers to let you know they need it now.