Local leaders lament the misuse of social media applications in communities 

Media: Dispute between couples due to the use of the popular mobile application WeChat in inciting alleged affairs, tops the list of cases for the Lamgong gewog mediation committee in Paro.

Lamgong gup Phub Tshering, who is also the Paro dzongkhag tshogdu chairman, said couples in villages complain against each other alleging that either their spouses are having an affair or that they are spending too much time on WeChat.

He said there have also been cases where couples have separated for the same reasons.

Smart phones are fast catching up with the rural mass and WeChat, local leaders say is on almost all residents’ phones today.

Kuensel learnt that marital discord among couples attributed to the use of smart phones is more prominent in some western districts.

Local leaders in these districts say such disputes may not necessarily get reported to the committee but it remains prevalent in villages.

Wangduephodrang’s Dangchu gup Sonam Dorji said there is an equal number of Facebook and WeChat users in his gewog. While social media is an important means of communication, the gup said there are some who don’t use it “productively.”

“The gewog committee has not received such complaints to date but we might start receiving them soon,” he said.

With almost all residents owning smart phones, local leaders said that even during important gewog zomdus, they have to be constantly reminded to concentrate on the meeting and not their mobile phones.

“The trend is worrying,” Lamgong gup Phub Tshering said, adding that the issue is also prominent in other gewogs in Paro. “While these platforms are important, people should know how to use it wisely,” he said.

Paro’s Shaba gup Kinga said such issues are expected with change. “The issue is not confined to the urban centres anymore,” he said.

The two cellular service providers in the country today cater to more than 75 percent of the population. Bhutan Telecom has more than 400,000 prepaid and postpaid registered customers while Tashi Cell has about 130,000 registered users.

Information and communication ministry’s secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji said social media cannot be controlled and that technology allows and gives people the audience and channel to make comments.

“The question should not be whether good or bad but are we using the social media for good or bad,” he said. “It’s about people and never about technology. People need to learn to behave and have values in dealing with each other.”

Dasho Kinley Dorji said gossips and rumours were prevalent in our society even before social media became popular in the country. “Social media is a powerful tool, are people using it for good or bad?” he said. “Such incidences through the use of social media reflect the Bhutanese personality.”

A judiciary official said social media disputes are registered either as civil or criminal depending on the nature of cases. Most courts receive harassment cases on social media that are criminal in nature more than civil cases like divorce.

Chief of police Brigadier Kipchu Namgyel said that besides distribution of pornographic materials, people were misusing social media extensively in both rural and urban areas.

To an extent, Brigadier Kipchu Namgyel said that cases of extra-marital affairs and domestic violence were also an outcome of social media. “People don’t see the other side when interacting on social media and tend to take advantage of anonymity,” he said.

Given its increasing misuse, Brigadier Kipchu Namgyel said police could help through sensitization of local leaders who can then educate the people. But he pointed out that it’s not social media that is to be blamed.

“Misuse of social media resulting in criminal activities such as distribution of pornographic materials is a serious offence,” Brigadier Kipchu Namgyel said.

Dasho Kinley Dorji said that to deal with the rural mass, the best way forward is to educate them in line with the social media policy. The policy, he said is about using social media effectively.

Banning social media, according to Dasho Kinley Dorji is a wrong approach, as technology cannot be stopped. “If the people don’t have the right values, you end up doing the wrong things more efficiently with technology,” he said.

While reacting to the negative side of social media, Dasho Kinley Dorji said people should not forget the positive side to it.  For instance, he said that as a largely oral society, WeChat allows voice communication.

Law practitioners said that as much as social media is popular, people should not forget that in terms of laws and legislations, what applies in real life also applies in social media such as defamation, libel or slander.

Kinga Dema