The mass influence of social media accounted for and its powers taken into consideration, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has drafted the Social Media Policy 2012.
This move has been undertaken to ensure proper usage of social media by the ECB, election officials, political parties, candidates, party supporters, and the media houses during or outside the election period.
Social media means communications through various mediums online, through mobile communications, and publications.
“Social Media Policy is a Powerful and effective medium for voter as well as to disseminate information. For example in Facebook we can put up notices and instruction which can be instantly received as well as monitor on people’s action,” said the Chief Election Commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi.
According to the ECB, the objectives behind this policy are to promote responsible communications among electoral stakeholders through cellular technology, to ensure a level playing field for all the contestants and political parties in the use of this technology.
Other objectives are, to prevent and control any violation of the electoral laws in the use of social media during elections.
Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said they could expect people to use it for good purpose rather than negative purposes. It is expected that all the users maintain the decorum as there are ways and means to tackle those who misuse it.
The ECB further stated that for the usage of such a technology, an accountability should be maintained like every user will have to shoulder the responsibility to carry out oversight duty and report to the election authorities on any violation of the laws, particularly the Election Code of Conduct by political parties, candidates, voters, media, electoral officers or workers of parties.
The ECB also made it clear that all the above concerned individuals and parties will have to submit their links of the social media being used for election campaign to the ECB, these links will have to be submitted through the Returning Officer at the time of filing the letter of intent (filing nominations).
The ECB has also warned that there will be no mudslinging between parties and that the commission will monitor that electoral laws are not violated. The Office of Media Arbitrator will be responsible to monitor and arbitrate all media related disputes.
All these accountability should also be maintained during the Black-Out period, which is the 48 hour period before the polls and until the closing of polls.
The ECB stated being mindful of the third party election advertising, which is the party conducting advertising under false identity. This will be regarded as a criminal offence under the electoral laws and will be prosecuted in the court of law.
Any political advertising in any mediums on behalf of a political party or a candidate is prohibited if run by any individual other than a registered member of a party or election representative of a candidate for proposing or opposing a party or a candidate at an election.
On the media front, the ECB has asked for a fair and accurate reporting, not being biased, and to practice balanced reporting amongst others.
The ECB has also pointed out the role of the media arbitrator, which is, being responsible to ensure that there was a level playing field in terms of advertisement and that no one draws advantage through propaganda of the Royal Patronage, religion, religious personalities or resorting to personal attacks or hate speeches.
The media arbitrator will also have to arbitrate all media related disputes as provided under the Media Coverage of Election Rules and Regulations 2012.
The use of social media by the ECB and its officials will be for disseminating election related information to voters but only under its name and authority. The officials will be able to use their personal blogs, websites or any other social media forms only for their personal communications.
There will also be a code of conduct for the user of social media for which the user will have to subscribe to the Election Code of Conduct in the Election Act and further spelt out in the media coverage of elections rules, election advertising rules and the fundamental principles thereof mandated by it.
Any violation of this conduct will be deemed as an offence under the Election Act 2008.