The misinformation age

There are two things which are rapidly evolving and combining into a major problem for Bhutan’s intellectual culture.

One is the lack of a reading culture in Bhutan, even at the highest levels of our society and government which regrettably has always been there.

This has now been combined with ‘social media illiteracy’ or the quality of picking up and believing anything from the social media from rumors to misinformation to be true or worthy of attention. There is a serious inability to filter information and too often the most outright factual inaccuracies are treated like the Gospel truth.

The Bhutanese has experienced both of the above in recent times over actually a couple of very straightforward news articles on the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa making an open offer to unite with BKP and DCT. The DNT also said that the talk first came up in 2014. The paper then got the other side with the BKP President saying no to the open offer and also saying there had been no such discussion or offer even back in 2014.

This paper then verified the matter with DCT President who confirmed DNT’s version of a 2014 discussion on the possibilities of three parties uniting being held among them.

Now, so far so good, as the above article only talked of an ‘open offer’ by DNT and not definite ‘merger’ and also quoted the BKP President’s rejection of it including saying there had been no discussion at all. DNT and DCT begged to differ saying a 2014 discussion did take place.

The BKP President then simply restated his quote already liberally quoted in the story on his Facebook wall after which there was pandemonium among many social media users not used to reading more than one paragraph or emoticon at a time.

In a telling commentary of our reading and social media culture many of them came to the conclusion that the BKP President was trashing the story by The Bhutanese when they were not even aware that the same story had already liberally quoted the BKP President, whose contribution was only one part of the story. It showed many of them did not even bother to read the original story beyond the headline quoted by the BKP President and his restating of his article quote on his Facebook wall.

So a simple non-issue developed into a civilization of its own. Even more interestingly, the BKP President who was at the center of attention in a mini-storm on his Facebook page kept mum and not clarify.

So by now this group of blind friends insisting that the tail of the elephant is in fact the whole elephant, only got bigger.

The icing on this cake seems to have happened when even the National Broadcaster got The Bhutanese story completely wrong. Somebody had clearly not read the original stories.

Now, it is one thing for social media users shooting from the hip to say one thing and completely another thing for a responsible journalist and media house to say the same thing.

The BBS which by itself is used to not getting The Bhutanese’s side of story went ahead with its flawed premise and conclusions.

In a way all of the above incidents should give us pause and time to reflect on how our society consumes, understands and shares information in today’s ‘information age’ or also conversely known as the ‘misinformation age’.

 

“Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar”

Edward R. Murrow

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