Rural Bhutan grapples with the misuse of social media

While the penetration of social media has enhanced communication and transformed the information sharing culture in rural Bhutan, users are now seeing the ugly side of technology.

Recently, an unclothed image of man in Trongsa that was shared on WeChat reached his daughter based in Thimphu. “It is a disturbing trend,” a teacher from Sonamthang Central School in Panbang, who participated in the media literacy and advocacy programme, conducted by the Journalists Association of Bhutan (JAB) said.

He said that a group of young village boys, who were ignorant of the consequences, photographed the man and shared his nude image through WeChat. The man is reported to have been drunk and had fallen asleep under a tree.

“Trongsa police managed to track those boys and detained them for a night after a family member lodged a complaint,” he said.

During discussions on the impact of social media, participants agree that social media has transformed information sharing culture in places like Panbang in Zhemgang.  Some pointed out that social media has granted people the freedom to say and do what they like. “This has encouraged many to wear the cloak of anonymity and attack whoever they do not like,” Phuntsho Namgyel of Sonamthang Central School said.

The traditional media, according to Phuntsho Namgyel, plays the role of counterbalancing fake news and anonymous comments circulating on social media. “So traditional media is crucial for us,” he said.

One participant said that men through WeChat and Facebook deceived many villagers, especially girls and women. “For instance, there were cases in Trongsa where some supporting staff, drivers, and security personnel of Mangdechhu project impersonated as engineers and site supervisors to lure girls and women,” he said. “Our innocent girls and women are gullible to what they said. Such trend should be stopped.”

Led by the gup, mangmi, tshogpa and chipon, more than 50 villagers between 21 and 65 years from Ngangla gewog in Zhemgang attended the media literacy programme on October 14.

An access to media survey conducted as part of the programme showed that more than 70 percent of participants used WeChat and Facebook while 76 percent (38) used WeChat. Radio and newspaper are the least used media in Panbang. Some participants said that they haven’t seen a newspaper for the last seven to eight years.

Ngangla gup Rinchen Wangdi said that such media advocacy was useful as many people are sharing fake news, nude images and distributing obscene video clips, without understanding the consequences.

In Dorokha, Samtse more than 65 participants between 18 and 65 years attended the programme on October 17. Some walked more than six hours to hear and share their experience on media.

Supported by United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDF), the JAB took the media literacy programme to four unreached, remote communities in three regions of the country- Sakteng in Trashigang, Panbang in Zhemgang and Dorokha in Samtse. The next awareness programme is scheduled for Adha Rukha, Wangduephodrang this weekend.

Rinzin Wangchuk

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