To ensure free and fair conduct of election, the Office of the Media Arbitrator of the Election Commission of Bhutan will not only monitor all the media coverage but will also monitor social media during the Election Period as per Section 6.10 of the Media Coverage of Elections Rules and Regulations of the Kingdom of Bhutan. The Commission has therefore already issued a notification urging the general public and all social media users that any post, tweet, comment or opinion of a candidate or their authorized representative must be in conformity with the Election code of conduct.
However, even with the onset of the election period, the mudslinging on the social media has increased more so than ever with divisive post attracting a lot of attention and generating hate messages which are mostly driven by political motives. Such posts have also visibly started paving ways for smear campaigns against a candidate or a party.
Regarding this issue, the ECB Spokesperson for the NC elections 2018 and Head of the Department of Election, Sonam Tobgayl said that the Media Arbitrator has been specifically appointed to look after such issues arising from media coverage and use of social media. “Moreover we’ve appointed social media focal person who has well established social connections and active presence in the social media platforms. If we receive complaints in regard to the posts made online, we will investigate and take actions as per the electoral laws,” said Sonam Tobgayl.
The Officials from the Office of the Media Arbitrator said that for now they have two National Social Media Monitors and a Dzongkhag Social Media Monitor in all the 20 dzongkhags to address any social media related grievances and monitor the online content of the post as far as possible. In order to ensure fair check and balance, the social media handles of all the aspiring candidates are recorded with the Commission and their posts are monitored to make sure that no malicious comments or unethical posts are made against the other candidates which might distort the level playing field.
ECB, however, admitted that like every country in the world, monitoring social media is a huge challenge and that there is no particular mechanism in place to address social media related issues with innumerable anonymous accounts taking different platforms by storm.
Sonam Tobgayl said that with the increasing number of aspirants coming forward, one visible trend of curbing malicious post by a candidate or a party against the other has been through the complaints lodged by the opponents to the Office of the Media Arbitrator. “The aspiring candidates are someone keeping check and balance by immediately reporting to us on the unethical post that violates the electoral laws, so that is one smart way too,” said Sonam Tobgayl.
The Commission said that no major issues were reported in regard to the post made on social media platforms during the previous elections, aside from minor issues which were solved accordingly.