Organized Panel Session
While social media’s role in mass violence against Muslims in Myanmar has been emphasized, its mobilizing function has been overstated: violence has mostly occurred without social media directly inciting it. Yet, social media has abetted a general project of demonizing Muslims and ratifying mass violence against them by creating the discursive/symbolic environment in which Muslim claims to political membership (and even decent treatment) in Myanmar are rejected. Rather than presuming that social media is a prefigured channel that delivers information, this paper argues it should be considered a socio-political process in which that channel – the infrastructure of nationalism – is collectively built. Particularly in an environment in which there is an absence of public faith in standard sources of data (robust media institutions; trustworthy state information apparatuses), individuals are interpellated to apply their labor to assemble and reinforce various semiotic ligatures to construct common narratives about the world. By circulating information warning about “radical Islam,” users index their subjective stance, while also co-producing knowledge of the potential Muslim threat to the nation. Various campaigns and events – from nationalist Buddhist sermons to ‘national food’ promotion festivals – link online and real-life labor, deepening participation. In a fractally recursive way – from elites’ networks to villagers’ – people do not only consume nationalism but produce it. These participatory aspects, and the affect they generate, help explain why epistemological interventions (about truth of information) are impotent to dampen the xenophobia forged online and offline (and in between).