The rampant mudslinging, smear campaigns or defamation of candidates and political parties on the social media platforms is a cause for concern, especially as the election period draws near. Such posts are intended to either divide the voters or to influence them.
This concern is being taken seriously by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), especially after being alerted by the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) on the visit of the officials from Facebook India Online Services Private Limited. “Officials from ECB then held discussions with the officials from Facebook on ways and possibility of tracking or identifying anonymous accounts responsible for posting malicious content online against a party or candidate, that in turn, generates lots of hate messages,” said Sonam Tobgayl, ECB Spokesperson and Head of the Department of Election.
Sonam Tobgayl said that Facebook India has committed to help ECB in countering malicious post by anonymous users, whereby there has been an agreement that DITT will function as the official channel between ECB and Facebook India to channel through any issue reported with ease.
“The company, Facebook India asked us to give them at least 6 months time to work out a plan, but since the commission’s main aim is to have a free and fair election during the election period, we requested them to mainly help us once we call the election. So they’ve given us their commitment that it can be done,” said Sonam Tobgayl.
Sonam Tobgayl said that a media arbitrator has been specifically appointed to look after 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.
Similar to the strategies implemented during the NC election, ECB will be placing National Social Media Monitors and Dzongkhag Social Media Monitors in all the 20 dzongkhags to address any social media-related grievances and to monitor the online content and posts on all social media platforms. “We also have the ECB regulations on social media, and we are happy that the public and political parties alike are welcoming our move to counter anonymous users with malicious post.”
Sonam Tobgayl, however, clarified that ECB is not all against social media, and that the commission, in fact, embraces the online platforms which help in creating more awareness during the electoral processes. He said such moves are mainly undertaken to ensure the free and fair conduct of the election.
So far no case has been reported with ECB, although the commission expects cases to be reported once the election is underway.
A team from Facebook India conducted a session with government executives on Facebook as a safe social platform for communication and business. More than 50 participants including officials from various departments and agencies attended the session.