Picture Courtesy: Dasho’s Facebook page

Ex-NC Thrizin quashing ‘BHUTANESE News & FORUMS’ fake news on joining DPT raises serious questions about Bhutan’s biggest Facebook forum

Bhutan’s largest facebook forum ‘BHUTANESE News and FORUMS’ and also the biggest source of fake news in the country recently had a post by a fake account ‘Kappor   Devan’ that announced that the former National Council Chairman Dasho Sonam Kinga had joined DPT.

The post was accompanied with the facebook profile picture of Dasho.

Prior to that another fake account Kezang Jamtsho asked on behalf of Dasho as to which party he should join. This post too was accompanied with Dasho’s picture.

Both the posts and especially the one by ‘Kappor Devan’ attracted a lot of attention and comments, with many believing it to be true, while there were also quite a few who questioned the veracity of the post.

Dasho denied both the above posts on his facebook page in a post titled, ‘Me joining DPT ? No way! Absolutely not!’

He said that in the last few days he had received many messages and calls asking if he was joining DPT.

“I realized that they were asking after a certain Kappor Devan (anonymous) posted a fake news on Facebook stating that I have decided to join DPT. I also found that a certain Kezang Jamtsho posted my picture on his wall and wrote as if I have posted, ‘Which party I should join, 2018.”

“I noticed there have been hundreds of comments and views expressed on Kappor Devan’s news which is fake and Kezang Jamtsho’s post which I didn’t write,” he added.

Dasho said that he would not have bothered to waste time and clarify if he did not receive calls and messages from the media, friends, colleagues and well-wishers in the last few days. He said they wanted to know if he was joining DPT.

“I would like to clarify that I am not joining DPT at all. To do so would go against my core values, beliefs and principles,” said Dasho.

He also clarified saying that saying that he will not be joining any other political party.

Not the first time on Bhutanese Forum

This is not the first time that the ‘Bhutanese News and Forums’ has spread fake news on its forum that includes 148,068 members.

The majority of its posts are made by politicized anonymous accounts often touting fake news or political propaganda to put down other parties and push forward their own agenda.

Apart from political fake news the forum which has classified itself as a ‘study group’ also specializes in defamation where again mostly anonymous accounts put up pictures and defamatory information of institutions, public figures and individuals, which are not verified.

This is even though the forum rules prohibit fake accounts and pledges to remove them.

National security

The forum in one of its rules says that it will not allow posts against the Tsa-Wa-Sum but it moderators, in the past, have approved posts by foreign militant and terrorist organizations against Bhutan.

One particular post was of a Maoist Group based in Nepal that declared war on Bhutan and the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA). These terrorist groups well known for conducting blasts and other violent acts in Bhutan used the forum to publicize their propaganda against the Bhutanese state and the Tsa-Wa-Sum.

The moderators who all have fake accounts and are anonymous belatedly allowed these posts even against the objections of many commentators.

The Forum also approved posts in the past that threatened to bring bodily harm and even kill top Bhutanese leaders and VVIPS.

Racism and hate speech

The forum is also Bhutan’s main source of racist posts aimed at igniting ethnic tensions between Bhutan’s various ethnic groups.

Ironically, one of its rules is no discrimination and defamation is allowed.

The forum is also Bhutan’s biggest purveyor of hate speech with the forum often having posts attacking ethnic groups, languages and people.

One usual tactic is to point out the racial origins of individuals and attack them based on that.

The forum also excels at stoking regionalism by often inventing news or giving a spin to the facts.

Defamation and Conspiracy theories

While the forum rules, in theory, is against defamation it is also the biggest source of fake news and defamation against institutions, public figures and even private individuals.

Very often a large proportion of its posts do not stand up to scrutiny, as many journalists have discovered, including with the recent one about Dasho Sonam Kinga joining DPT.

The forum does allow for genuine grievances to be posted and this gives it a degree of legitimacy among readers, but this legitimacy is again misused by many more others to spread fake news on the same forum.

Conspiracy theories also finds its own space in the forum, but these are not the genuine conspiracy theories with enough mystery and circumstantial evidence to warrant speculation, but are in the nature of straight out fake news and incendiary bombs aimed at causing damage.

Objectionable pictures

The forum in its rules claims that it will not allow objectionable pictures. However, this forum has become the largest site of objectionable and gory pictures. It has also carried pictures exposing the genitals of children which is an international sex offence and goes against protecting vulnerable children.

It’s rules say that it does not allow sharing of images of human dead bodies or injured bodies but the forum is often flush with them, and the administrators do not remove them even though many comments urge them to do so.

At times it is Facebook itself that takes down these pictures after getting reports against them by users.

Death and rape threats

The forum allows death threats and also rape threats against individuals or public figures be it in posts or in the comments.

As an example, the Editor of this paper has been subject to multiple death threats on the forum due to the paper’s investigative stories against the rich and powerful.

Rape threats and sexual violence are issued frequently against females who are featured on the forum.

Even when other users object to such posts the admins or moderators do not remove them.

An apolitical mask Vs reality

The main USP of the site is that there appears to be no censorship of any kind on the site, but this has been countered on other social media sites where other anonymous accounts and even real people have complained of many posts not being approved on the forum, particularly when it goes against a certain political party.

The frequent complaints by these accounts posted on other social media forums show that Bhutanese Forum allows just about enough content to give itself the appearance of a neutral or free for all forum, but then works overtime to censor or at times even remove certain posts going against a certain political party.

The admins of the forum also go out of their way to share any clarification or message of the political leaders of the same political party, even when these leaders are commenting on their own page.

They also take extra trouble to congratulate the leaders of the same party for any achievement or award.

The site has four admins and all of them are fake accounts. One of them appears to be on multiple WeChat groups enabling him or her to post accident pictures and videos from WeChat onto the forum adding to the popularity of the forum.

Laws broken

The nature of content on the forum being currently posted and also posted in the past violates various laws in Bhutan with the chief being the National Security Act.

Apart from that, the main other law is the Penal code with reference to transmitting objectionable picture of children and even adults.

It again violates the Penal code on matters of defamation and trying to create racial and ethnic tensions.

The Chief of Police, Colonel Chimi Dorji said that so far the RBP has not received any official complaint against ‘Bhutanese News and Forums’ but that if it does then it would investigate and seek a court order to take further action against the site.

“With a court order we can write to Facebook to take action,” said the Police Chief.

He said that when it comes to objectionable picture of children and other crime issues the RBP can seek Interpol’s help to contact Facebook to remove the content and track down the person putting up such content.

The police chief said that the RBP also has certain investigation tactics to trace some of the digital ‘footprints’ left behind by anonymous users. He said that though RBP does not have jurisdiction on external Facebook servers they can seek help from the local telecom and internet companies as part of their investigation.

Facebook’s responsibility

Facebook has come under increasing international criticism in recent times with investigation after investigation showing how it is now the main agent of spreading fake news, hate speech, promoting extremism and even causing real clashes, crimes and death on the ground in many countries.

In neighboring Sri Lanka, for example, Facebook accounts fanning communal and ethnic hatred and fake news had lead to actual communal clashes and riots between communities and groups.

Faced with such criticism, Facebook had promised to better monitor content, but going by what is happening in Bhutan, it is an eye wash, as Bhutan’s biggest Facebook forum is the main source of fake news, death threats, rape threats, explicit pictures of underage children, threats of terrorism, racism, ethnic tensions, defamation and more.

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