The Legislative Committee of the National Assembly, which is working on the Information Communication and Media (ICM) Bill is looking at adding social media provisions in it.
Currently, the Ministry of Information and Communication has a broad and largely vague social media policy, which is mainly directed at civil servants.
Any social media provision in the ICM Bill would give it legal standing, and hence can be enforced by regulatory agencies or even be upheld by the courts, unlike policies.
The first gut instinct and reaction from some would be to question the need for laws at all, and instead question any such inclusion as being an attempt to restrict social media use.
On the other hand, Bhutan’s mainstream media is already governed by a host of existing Acts, rules and regulations which are enforced by BICMA. Though these rules can be a small irritant at times, it has in not hampered the functioning of a free press.
The ground reality in today’s social media is that while it is a largely positive development that has empowered people at all levels, its ills, like elsewhere in the world, are also fast emerging.
Serious problems like financial fraud, pedophiles prowling social media sites, racism and online hate crimes, real crimes, terrorism cannot be discounted in Bhutan. In fact some social media sites in Bhutan have seen explicit declarations of war and violence against Bhutan by foreign terrorist organizations.
Other issues that have cropped up in recent times are defamation, impersonation, bullying, graphic pictures etc.
There are also a lot of emerging studies that show the ills of excessive social media use, especially on young and impressionable children.
The Legislative Committee and the Parliament in general will have to walk a fine balance between protecting social media users and curbing bad practices, and on the other hand ensuring that no provisions go against the spirit of responsible free speech guaranteed in the Constitution.
However, a law will not be enough as various stakeholders have to educate the public in a non-intrusive manner, so that they are safe on the social media and can use it in a responsible manner.
“The problem with this generation is that they believe in social media more than people.”