Bhutan currently has around 400,000 Facebook accounts according to Facebook which gives this estimated figure to those who want to use its platform for online advertisement in Bhutan.
This not only dwarfs all other social media platforms but also makes facebook the largest and most powerful media outlet in Bhutan, not accountable to any law or regulatory agency.
So, there was a great sense of relief when Facebook India committed to the ECB to help conduct free and fair elections by getting rid of anonymous accounts spewing hate and fake news.
However, so far, this has turned out to be an empty promise as facebook has not even bothered to give an official contact point to DITT which was supposed to be the focal agency in Bhutan to pass on the complaints.
This behavior is the norm rather than the exception when it comes to facebook, which has a poor track record in developing countries of responding to fake news and hate speech .
Apart from not being major revenue sources like the west or bigger countries, facebook does not have enough staff trained in local languages or those who are conversant with local information to monitor and take down abusive posts and fake accounts.
This has even led to UN investigators investigating the violence against Rohingyas to accuse facebook of turning into ‘a beast.’
The Guardian paper found that in communal riots triggered and spread by facebook in Sri Lanka this year, one factor was very high levels of literacy but very low level of information and social media literacy leading to people easily falling for fake news put up on social media.
Bhutan, like Sri Lanka, also has high levels of literacy and social media engagement but very low levels of information literacy to critically distinguish fake news. The decline of the private media over the last eight years or so has also left a big vacuum now filled by the social media.
Bhutan is vulnerable, given the young state of our democracy and also certain regional and other fault lines. Facebook, like in the case of other developing countries, has a tendency to seep into these fault lines and further widen them.
It is time for Bhutanese society and even the state to take effective action before things spin out of control.
“The cure to eliminate fake news is that people stop reading 140-character tweets and start reading 600-page books.”