As of the latest count Bhutan has around 76,360 Facebook accounts which are 11 percent of the total population and up to 5,000 Twitter accounts.
In the case of Facebook the majority demography are of the ages of 18-34 who make up 74 percent of the accounts. Those between 13 -17 years of age make up another 11 percent.
In Bhutan like elsewhere in the world social media has both positive and negative impacts on society, but with the positives still outweighing the negatives.
Social Media through Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, online discussion forums and etc has brought in an information revolution among the growing community of educated, and young population of Bhutan.
This medium apart from fulfilling its basic function of keeping family and friends in touch has taken a life of its own.
Social media especially facebook already has had some significant impact with the amendment of the Tobacco Control Act.
If people were not sure about the impact of anonymous online forums on the 2008 elections, there can be no doubt that social media, with the numbers that it commands, can be a possible game changer in 2013 among younger voters.
In many ways social media has become the ‘citizen’s media’ where ordinary citizens with varying levels of content become instant citizen journalists either reporting on an event or sharing their opinion.
The medium in some ways has also become a check and balance on the formal media which no longer has the privilege of being the sole mass communication medium. The old saying that ‘A good newspaper is a nation talking to itself’ is no longer applicable just to newspapers but also the social media.
In the economic context social media sites have become a potential marketing tool with an increasing number of individuals and companies using it with effect. It is being used for everything from selling products to making your restaurant or bar a known spot.
For a country starved of entertainment, it has also become an entertainment platform.
Social Media in many ways is doing a great deal to advance and develop a democratic culture. For example, the Chief Election Commissioner who heads a prestigious and powerful institution interacts on a daily basis with ordinary citizens on the social media. Another example is the Prime Minister who along with dollops of praise and unsolicited advice also tolerates the occasional criticism from some of his 5,000 ‘friends’ on facebook. Social media in one sense is an alternative medium apart from the media that allows the voices of ordinary citizens to reach the powerful.
However, social media also has potential negatives which can be avoided in most cases if one is a careful and discerning user.
While social media is increasingly becoming a source of news it is also a source off growing fake news. A recent example is fake news on Samsung paying one billion dollars in small change to Apple going viral throughout the world.
Social Media also encourages anonymous users to launch personal attacks. There is very little ground for neutrality on social media as people are placed in various camps where opinions rule. Social media can also be manipulated by groups of a dedicated few who can try and pass it off as public opinion.
Cyber bulling and addiction are also increasing concerns in the Bhutanese social media. There are also increasing chances of information theft and virus attacks through the social media. Another clear disadvantage is the amount of productive work time that is wasted.
Social Media in the end despite its failings is a tool that gives the power of the pen to ordinary citizens which in a democracy should be welcomed and encouraged.