Harnessing Social Media for good

The Ministry of Information and Communication’s (MoIC) draft Social Media Policy is not only an interesting document but it is also an interesting idea of sorts.

Firstly, an immediate response to any world of ‘policy or regulations’ around media or social media invites instant and understandable suspicion.

However, the draft Social Media Policy of the MoIC, in its current form, is an open minded and liberal document that seeks more to direct the use of social media, especially by government agencies, for more productive efforts.

In an age of democracy and citizen participation, the draft policy aims at government using Social Media to increase citizen participation in shaping policies, laws and public services.

This would be apart from the more tradition use of social media to share and disseminate information.

The policy also aims to make the government’s social media usage more responsive to citizens and also serve as an open or free data source of various information. This will also fit in neatly with the upcoming Right to Information Bill that requires agencies to put official information in the public domain which includes the online world.

In an era of Facebook and Twitter where huge numbers of both old and young Bhutanese are getting connected to each other, it is equally important for the government to also be well connected with its citizens.

The government’s services and information will have to rapidly move from the old world of yellow paper and red tape to this fast evolving social media age.

The other aspect of the policy has very broad guidelines on the use of social media and it essentially asks citizens as social media users to be good citizens following all laws, respecting people’s rights, being accurate, considerate, responsible and transparent.

This is important in light of the recent Bumthang case where the pictures of two suicide victims were shared and uploaded on social media, causing the families additional grief and much disgust among the public.

There is no doubt that while the social media is a largely good development which allows distant friends and families to keep in touch with each other, share information, practice free speech and so on it also has its downside.

Though the policy is broad it should also subtly address the more negative issues of social media like internet crime, hate speech etc.

At the same time those drafting the policy made it clear that the government will not touch any constitutional freedoms in the Social Media policy, adopting a light touch approach.

The most basic rights of citizens are enshrined in the Constitution under Fundamental Rights. One of these rights is Free speech while another is Freedom of Media. In an eager drive to avoid criticism or impose ones version of the truth on others Social Media and Free Speech for that matter should not get restricted and constrained.

All institutions in a democracy, especially political parties and politicians should show more tolerance not only for views which differ from them factually but also for outbursts or animated expressions from ordinary citizens.

At end of the day it is clear that democracy, information and communication has undergone a revolutionary change with the advent of social media. Old approaches and attitudes in dealing with new technologies, new ideas and new times will not work.

It is clear that the government’s social media policy should mainly focus on harnessing the great good it can do, not only in terms of services and information but also in creating a healthy and open environment for democratic debate, feedback and criticism.

560“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
George Orwell

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