Social networking sites are nowadays the platform to share and break news but the information is not always accurate.
Certain forums on Facebook have started hosting not only viral fake news and rumors but also highly sensitive content including some that declare war on Bhutan and also try to incite communal unrest within Bhutan.
Social media in Bhutan has off late also become a forum for anonymous accounts to not only undermine the national fabric but also destroy reputations through rumors and morphed pictures. A Social media interaction gone wrong also contributed to the rape and murder of a young girl in Bhutan recently (see pg 1 story.)
There are also many new fake accounts that attempt to get financial and personal details from Bhutanese people to either rob them or blackmail them.
The images of a woman being brutally murdered by her husband were circulated on Wechat as an incident that happened in Punakha. It was later confirmed that the incident took place in Bangalore and the couple were Indian.
A media officer from the Department of Information and Communication said there is a need for a more stringent policy and law because social media is vulnerable to cyber attacks such as spear pishing, social engineering and web application attacks. There are also risks for malware and spyware therefore agencies must implement security measures to mitigate risks.
“The legislative committee of the Parliament is working on the ICM Bill which would have provisions on the social media. Provisions in the bill would be more firm and well defined because the existing policy on social media has proven to be hollow and ineffective as users chose not to abide by the policy and post fake news on social media platforms,” she added.
The current Social Media Policy of the Government of Bhutan states that “Everyone should act in a constructive manner and exercise good judgment, should always ensure that what is posted is true and never to post malicious, indecent, vulgar, obsence, misleading or unfair content about others, one’s organization, one’s friends or competitors. The policy also states that people are not allowed to disclose sensitive private information and should use social media in a manner that is consistent with public sector values, legal requirements, related policies and the code of conduct”.
The Director of Bhutan Information Communication and Media Authority (BICMA), Chencho Dorji, said that there is no existing law on social media use and therefore they don’t have any rules and regulations to regulate social media. “For any action to take place there needs to be a complaint filed against a party and maybe the police would investigate and work in accordance with law but BICMA as a media regulator, even if we want to do it, we cannot because there is no policy directives right now,” he said. “Only if there is a policy directive from the Ministry, BICMA can frame rules and regulations to regulate social media.”
Touching on Dasho Benji and and Doctor Sacha’s case, he said that the concerned authorities intervened because there was a complaint filed against a party but in the absence of any complaint they can’t do anything.
Officials from the Ministry of Information and Communication claim that BICMA, being a media regulator, should intervene because they already have a policy endorsed called the Social Media Policy of the Government of Bhutan.
However, the Social Media Policy of the government in most of its part is applicable to only civil servants expect for a brief half page code of conduct where the government ‘encourages’ citizens to be a good citizen, be responsible, transparent, accurate, considerate, careful and appropriate. In short it lacks the legal teeth and backing of provisions in an Act of Parliament.
Any discussions and developments on the issue in the ICM Bill would generate public interest with the need to have a free social media but balanced by the need to ensure it is not misused to break laws and cause harm.