There is a global conversation going on among governments, civil society, academia, media, and ordinary people on the increasingly dark and insidious nature of social media, and its impact on real lives and real society.
The conversation is both about acknowledging we all have a growing social media problem on our hands, and the other one is on the actual measures that can be taken to protect societies and individual rights through accountability and laws.
While the benefits of social media are well known from being a platform to connect with loved ones to empowering ordinary users, its dark side and costs are now dwarfing these benefits.
A recent international example is the European Union’s new privacy and regulatory guidelines meant to protect the rights and privacy of EU citizens as social media companies mine and sell our data, in almost all cases without our knowledge.
In countries across the world there are now similar criticisms of social media that apply to Bhutan as well. Like it or not, but we are a part of the global social media scene.
One most well known aspect is its role in spreading and promoting fake news that misleads people and voters and has done harm.
Here in Bhutan, just two recent examples were news about the former NC Chairman joining a political party, which turned out to be fake, and another was on the opening of the Damchu-Chukha bypass, whose main bridge is yet to be completed.
The first news caused a lot of political speculation and also subsequent political controversy when the fake news was denied. The second fake news led to people actually driving up to the bypass to experience a ride, only to find it closed.
Both of these fake news was posted on Bhutan’s largest Facebook forum Bhutanese News & Forums.
This takes us to the other issue of the largest source of problems in the social media emanating from Facebook, both due the sheer numbers of users and also due to the nature of the medium.
A growing body of work that includes investigative journalism, polls and academic studies find that Facebook is at the forefront of hate speech, communalism, xenophobia, racism, misogyny and is the torch bearer in fomenting extremism, divisions, political instability and tribalism.
We are familiar with the above on facebook in general in Bhutan and especially on its largest forum in Bhutan.
A lot of credible work shows how in many countries, where the social fabric is weak- facebook has played a leading role in upping tensions and leading to actual violence.
The most disquieting part of all this is that social media companies like facebook remain impervious to national laws and boundaries with profit serving as the main motive, even if it means rigged elections, divided communities, destabilized countries and actual blood on its hands.
The time for talk shops is over and so the Bhutanese government, like the governments in the European Union, must take effective action to protect the basic rights of its people and the stability of the country.
‘For months, we had been tracking riots and lynchings around the world linked to misinformation and hate speech on Facebook’
New York Times