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Rinzin Wangchuk 

As the parliamentary elections near, an increasing number of anonymous social media accounts with political agenda are misinforming and disturbing the masses.

This is one of the many concerns members of the Parliament raised during the two-day fact-checking workshop in Paro. They also called for a mechanism to debunk fake news which digital technology has allowed to prosper.

“If a mechanism is not initiated to control or fight anonymous account users who are spreading misinformation and disinformation, there is a risk that every one of us will fall victim to fake news,” Paro’s National Council member, Ugyen Tshering said.




He said that people tend to believe fake news when authorities concerned fail to clarify and debunk it.

NA member of Khamed-Lunana constituency, Yeshey Dem, said that fake news is misleading people. “Social media and fake news create disharmony among the people,” she said.

National Council MP from Samtse, Tirtha Man Rai, agreed that the media as a fourth estate plays a vital role in promoting and deepening democracy in the country. “We should educate the mass and promote media and information literacy (MIL) so that people can determine whether the information is credible or not,” he said.




About 18 parliamentarians along with media officers from various agencies discussed the recent fake news shared and circulated on different social media platforms and how to verify the information and debunk such misinformation.

The recent fake news was about the PDP president stepping down and handing over the responsibility to another member.

“People in positions of power often inadvertently cause fake news due to the information vacuum,” a young tech entrepreneur, Phub Dorji, said. “When information is not corrected, people come with wild theories and rumours,” he said.

One MP said that social media is the biggest threat to free and fair elections.  “The best solution to control fake news, I see, is enhancing and creating awareness among the people,” she said.





For free and fair  elections

During the 2018 parliamentary elections, people through many Facebook groups posted and shared content which defamed the political parties they did not support. If people are not media and information literate, it can harm both the readers’ perspective and the reputation of the political parties, according to the Journalists Association of Bhutan (JAB).

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has the Social Media Rules and Regulations to moderate and regulate the use of social media during the election period. It requires that every user of social media carries out oversight duty and reports to the election authorities any violation.




The rules also require every candidate to submit the addresses/links of the social media being used for election campaigns to the Election Commission of Bhutan and bar any person from communicating/transmitting/posting hate messages or any content with the intent to defame or reduce the electoral chances of an opposing contestant.

“However, these rules on social media do not have enough teeth to deal with the social media menace in the election,” lawyer Sonam Tshering said.

He stated that studies from many countries confirmed that with easy access to political discussion, social media changes voters’ perceptions of one another, as well as candidates. “That is why many candidates use social media as a primary platform for the campaign,” Lawyer Sonam Tshering said.




Forms of  disinformation

Fake news encompasses news which misleads and is factually incorrect.  Fake news, misinformation, and disinformation, according to UNESCO, form a part of the information disorder and have endangered trust in media and journalism.

Increased digital access and the reach of social media platforms coupled with inadequate digital literacy have compounded the problem in networked societies worldwide. Such information disorder, according to UNICEF, has been propagated internationally by state, media, and private channels. These include uncredited claims of election fraud, libel against citizens, and state propaganda, which have all contributed to social and political discord.

With the increasing online population, Bhutan has witnessed expanding proportions of mal-information and Covid-19 has amplified this trend. According to Bhutan Media Foundation’s Social Media Landscape in Bhutan 2021, about 90 per cent of the people are active members of at least one social media site, using it as their primary source of information.




A survey done by the Journalists’ Association Bhutan found that 64 percent of Bhutanese have encountered disinformation, which is false information created with the intention of profiting from it or causing harm, 35 percent have fallen victim to disinformation, and over 10 percent have spread disinformation knowingly or unknowingly, while 25 percent are not sure.

 

Facebook is the primary site for encountering disinformation on social media, with word of mouth coming to close second, according to the survey. Over 50 percent of the respondents also experienced disinformation on social media networks like WeChat, WhatsApp, Tik Tok, Instagram, and social media influencers. Traditional media such as newspapers, television and radio scored better on the trust quotient. 




The survey also found that over 50 percent of the Bhutanese find it difficult to source credible information, and a large number (70 percent) believe that disinformation has become more apparent since Covid-19.

About 18 MPs along with researchers and media officers from various agencies attended the fact-checking and tracing source of fake news workshop that concluded yesterday. This is the third workshop organized by JAB in collaboration with the Asia Foundation.

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