There is very good reason that we are warned about mental health during times like the Covid pandemic. It is a very real and serious problem. Bhutanese society should pay heed because not only is it inevitable, we have limited professional capacity to deal with it. Under the pressure of a prolonged siege like the Corona virus attack, people already on the edge of mental stability can totally flip.
In an extreme situation, there can be suicides even in a stable society like Bhutan’s. We see it everywhere else. But, much more common, technology enables the spread of crazed ranting. As a society still emerging from an oral tradition, and prone to rumour and gossip, some of our blogs and posts can reduce discourse to hate speech.
We see that Bhutanese (thankfully just a few) have not understood that freedom of speech comes with a very serious responsibility. This freedom is granted by the Constitution but, as we see it everywhere, is too often intentionally or inadvertently misused. The big question today is, what can we do about this trend? We draw the line.
Conventional thinking was that, with technology, trying to ban or stop unwanted posts does not work. The only real solution is that we educate society in critical thinking for people to be able to discern sense from nonsense. This has worked, albeit in a limited way, in very few sophisticated societies like the Scandinavian countries with small and very highly educated populations.
We see that self-styled Bhutanese commentators and bloggers are developing confidence but not professionalism. They do not see the difference between healthy criticism and downright slander. In a community that does not know the difference between news and views, some people are even misled into supporting the posts.
Every society has personalities who are not tuned into reality so countries require laws and regulations to prevent hate speech and defamation dominating national discourse. Individuals actually delude themselves, which often happens in a small society, with visions of intellectual integrity and moral authority. At a time when many people are at their most vulnerable, under siege by a relentless virus, what we do not want or need are commentators with access to social media but without the sanity to use them productively.
This is why the line must be drawn. Bhutan’s media watchers, normally advised to be encouraging and tolerant, need to place deterrents for the larger good. Just as mainstream media follows laws and regulations in the interest of society, society must be protected from cybercrime, especially online defamation.
Online comments are not beyond offline laws. And Bhutan does have laws to prevent cybercriminals from disrupting national peace. Being dumb, or even mad, is no excuse.