Chhimi Dema

With the schools closed due to the pandemic and the learning shifted online, to protect children’s welfare social media literacy is important more than ever.

Sonam Choden, 17, says that she uses social media platforms for online classes, to get updates on her favourite Korean boy band—BTS and to connect with her friends.

While some students said that there were groups in social media apps such as Messenger to share explicit contents, some students were pretending to be older and asking others to recharge their mobile data.


What is social media literacy?

Dr Chencho Lhamu, executive director of Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy, said, “Social media literacy is about understanding the potentials of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc.” Social media literacy means understanding the uses, dangers and opportunities provided by the social media platforms.

Social media literacy equips people with the know-how to remain safe online and use social media tools responsibly and sensibly, she says.

“Social media is not inherently good or evil, but the users make it so,” said Dr Chencho Lhamu.

Chencho said that nurturing a discerning mind and cultivating other virtues such as respect for diverse views, constructive criticism, exercising temperance and civic behaviour online were important components of social media literacy.


Importance of social media literacy 

With the exposure to all kinds of values, knowledge and beliefs through the internet and social media, cultural identity was at risk unless deeply ingrained in all, said Chencho.

She said that although there was exponential technological advancement in Bhutan, with the pervasiveness of social media, the society was experiencing a phenomenon of infodemic—spreading both accurate and inaccurate information about something.

Recently, on the social media platforms, a picture of a woman who was said to be the positive patient of Covid-19 was shared, which was a man who converted himself into a woman using a mobile app.

That shows that the line between real and fake, truth and false is blurred challenging the public to acquire new knowledge and skills, said Chencho. “Unless one is media savvy, and knows how to seek verified information, the public can easily be misinformed by fake news circulated out of jest or malice.”

Chencho said that social media provided individuals with raw and uncensored information quick and fast. “A case in point is the COVID-19-times; it is not only the authorities putting out advisories online for public information but many independent individuals too. These not only add to the deluge of information on social media but can confuse the public.”


Guidance from parents 

It was imperative for parents to educate the children on the pros and cons, safety features, and to exercise self-regulation by monitoring their screen time and the sites they visit, she said. “There are lots of good educational resources and apps but, it also exposes your child to a whole lot of undesirable things in life – sexualisation, materialism, violence, consumerism, narcissism, etc.”

Sonam Norbu, a teacher, shared that social media accounts are not necessary. “If in any case, children are creating accounts, parents should consistently monitor and guide them.”

He said: “Taking the privilege of accessibility is wrong and the future is technology and the internet.”

Parents should, he said, introduce their children to online learning sites which are credible and interactive. “Children should be encouraged to start blogs or Youtube channels or Facebook pages to kindle the creative side of children.”