When photographs of the body of a Bhutanese woman, an overseas employee who died abroad, started circulating on social media recently, the labour ministry was oblivious of such posts on Facebook.
It later learnt that the body was of an overseas employee who had gone abroad through its programme. That was the only information with the ministry, which at that time was occupied in the terminal meeting that ministries hold before the ministers leave office.
Few comments requesting social media users to refrain from sharing the photographs fell on deaf ears. Soon it was the photographs and a video clip of the tragic Jumja accident where two young lives were lost that was doing the rounds on these platforms.
Agencies tasked with the mandate to ensure the society’s welfare are not keeping pace with technology and the changes it induces. Inundated and overwhelmed by the information shared on social media, organisations such as Bhutan info-comm and media authority (BICMA), the department of information and media (DoIM) and the police are unable do anything to deter people from sharing graphic posts online.
Some started raising concerns about such posts after the mother of the boys shared that she was as disturbed by strangers sharing photographs of her sons’ bodies as she was by their death. She was as helpless as the agencies that the society looks up to stop this practice.
BICMA says it regulates the content of only those establishments it has licenced. Not social media. DoIM says its responsibility is limited to educating citizens on responsible use of social media. For agencies that have rarely lived up to the expectations of the people, expecting them to intervene in such matters only exposes their weaknesses. With the enactment of the ICM Act, it is said that this responsibility to regulate content falls on the media council, which is however, yet to be established. After almost five months, the ministry of information and communications is still awaiting a response from the civil service commission to establish the media council secretariat.
The police indicated that it looks into such posts and cited the example of the recent case of bullying, which it took up without anyone lodging a complaint. But at other times, it says it can take action only if a complaint is filed. Given the way it names and shames detainees selectively, expecting the police to police social media content may be a big task. But as the first to respond and reach accident and crime scenes, there is a growing conviction among people that police and health officials could have leaked the photographs online.
Bhutan has been grappling with social media for sometime now. We have seen its good and the bad. It is time we become responsible users of social media. In this digital age, we are what we post.