Before social media or the media ever reached Bhutan, it had a rich oral culture of not only passing down traditional stories, religious tales and local folklore but it was also an unofficial means of transmitting news and views.
The media came to Bhutan along with modernization and soon professional journalists and verified news became the main source of news in Bhutan.
Over the years the fast growth of social media, its interactive features and no holds barred nature has ensured that social media is now fast becoming a very popular source of news and views.
However, as in the rest of the world and with two major elections looming this year, Bhutan is grappling with the challenge of fake news on social media and also highly divisive rhetoric.
Bhutan’s oral culture suffered from the occasional exaggerations or even untrue but natural rumors in response to certain popular fears and situations. The mass media occasionally makes factual errors and is also accused at times of not getting all the sides of a story.
However, the social media is turning out to an entirely different and much more dangerous animal. It is not only being used to deliberately create and spread fake news but it has fertile ground to grow in a country where the political culture is becoming increasingly partisan, extreme, intolerant and violent.
Death threats, threats of physical violence, sexual violence and maligning each other due to mere political differences is becoming the norm in our social media.
A large number of Bhutanese, including the more gullible young, now take their news and views from Facebook pages that are an open sewer of propaganda, fake news, lies and hate. What makes it worse is that an increasing number are influenced by it and even participate in it.
The tragedy here is that political forces that were actually unleased in the form of politicians and parties to give shape to and strengthen Bhutanese democracy are the worst offenders encouraging such behavior, both overtly and covertly.
Bhutan is a nation of around 700,000 people surrounded by 1.2 bn people in the south and 1.3 bn people in the north.
It does not require much intelligence or imagination to figure out what can happen to a small and divided nation and people in a neighborhood of competing giants.
“Social media is the only vehicle I know that progresses forward while the passengers regress.”