There is no denying that social media today is an effective and instantaneous means of interaction and networking. They provide new opportunities in disseminating information and engaging the public.
With more than 70 percent of our population on social media, it has become a powerful platform. In an election year, it is the easiest and cheapest way to reach voters. However, while it offers many advantages, there will also be challenges mainly in terms of combating fake news. We are already beginning to see a few instances. As the elections draw closer, there will be many more. The question then is how will we mitigate the risks and draw strategies to face the problems head-on when they appear.
We have seen during the American presidential elections of 2016 and the Brexit vote in 2020, how social media was flooded with disinformation, misinformation and hate speech that allegedly affected the outcomes. International experts say misleading social media content can influence voter decisions.
It is here – from the media to political parties, the Election Commission of Bhutan and the responsible users – to join forces. There is not much time. In fact, we have already lost some grounds as anonymous pages have gathered thousands of followers. We already witnessed some advertising for aspiring candidates for the National Council elections.
In a bid to control misinformation, disinformation and hate speech on social media during the upcoming elections, the ECB could coordinate with tech companies like Meta, Twitter, and other social media companies.
The Social Media Rules and Regulations 2018 states that ECB, as far as possible, shall establish contact with popular and widespread Social Media companies to seek support during an election in not allowing persons to use the forum or communicate contents which are in violation of the Electoral Laws.
It is something that Nepal has experimented with and it worked. We also need to set community standards and keep vigil at the earliest possible.
The rules also call for the ECB to prioritise Social Media Literacy to mitigate or reduce undue influence by fake or anonymous posts. With the National Council elections at our doorstep, it is time for us to launch an aggressive movement against fake news. Being prepared is winning half the war.
We know it from experience. No matter how educated we are, many of us fall for scams on scholarships, and visa lotteries on social media evident from the widespread sharing of the links in social media groups and among friends.
It is also essential that we have a proper strategy and a clear understanding among the stakeholders about the countermeasures.
Then there are questions like whether we should allow social media advertising by aspiring candidates or political parties. If we should then how much should be the expenditure ceiling for such advertising? How do we monitor that?
We may not have all the answers now but it is not still late to look for them.