With large number of Bhutanese on social media, impact of social media can be enormous.
Art. 8(1) of the Constitution imposes a duty on every citizen to preserve and protect the unity in the country and Art. 8(6) mandate that, “ A person shall have the responsibility to provide help, to the greatest possible extent, to victims of accidents and in times of natural calamity”.
From the point of social media, this means, every citizen has the duty to ensure that, we use social media for good of the country and be a responsible netizen. But this fundamental duty is often ignored.
With report of first COVID-19 case confirmed in the country, the vulnerabilities of wide spread of false or misleading information through social media is extremely high. Further, many netizens also share photos of patient. There are already numerous anonymous posts on social media, particularly on Facebook and Instagram sharing numerous non-credible or misleading information on their pages about COVID-19 and some even send as messages to their friends and family without any verification.
Sharing of such false or misleading information as well as photos are serious criminal offence in many countries and so is in Bhutan.
For example, Section 448 of Penal Code of Bhutan, 2004 states that “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of breach of Public Order and tranquillity, if the defendant purposely fails to abide by the orders of the Royal Government issued in the interest of public safety, public order and tranquillity”.
Sharing of false information on social media can cause panic, disturb public order and tranquility. Section 437 of Information and Communication Act of Bhutan, 2018 states that “ Any person who by means of a public ICT system, sends or attempts to send, any message which, to the person’s knowledge, is false or misleading with the intent to prejudice the efficiency of any emergency services, cause alarm or endanger the safety of any person or of any vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or spacecraft shall be guilty of an offence of fourth degree.
This means, with this new law, now spreading or sharing of misleading or false information online is a felony offence (minimum of three years to maximum of less than five years imprisonment) without option of payment of Thirmthue.
Further, sharing of photos or videos of patients could amount to defamation and infringement on their right to privacy. Right to privacy in Bhutan is a fundamental right, which is not only of that individual or group of individuals, but also his or their family. Any person found sharing such photos or videos could be held liable for defamation.
If it is shared by health professionals, besides possible suit for defamation, it could further lead to termination of their service for breach of patient’s confidential information and unethical behaviour. Therefore, it is important for all the netizens to recognize the importance of being a responsible netizen in wake of such national issue.