What’s unso­cial about so­cial me­dia in Bhutan?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By NEEDRUP ZANGPO The writer is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Jour­nal­ists’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Bhutan.

SO­CIAL me­dia can be a beau­ti­ful an­gel or an un­ruly beast de­pend­ing on how so­ci­ety uses it. That’s how some mem­bers of the press de­scribed so­cial me­dia in a re­cent panel dis­cus­sion.

There are an es­ti­mated 250,000 Face­book users in Bhutan (32.5% of the pop­u­la­tion). Add to this the num­ber of peo­ple us­ing Twit­ter, What­sApp, WeChat and other so­cial net­work­ing sites. With cheaper ac­cess to smart­phones and mo­bile In­ter­net, a grow­ing num­ber of Bhutanese spend an in­creas­ing amount of time and en­ergy on so­cial me­dia. How we spend our time and en­ergy on­line calls for se­ri­ous con­tem­pla­tion.

And this is at the heart of any dis­cus­sion on the use of so­cial me­dia. At a time when the tra­di­tional me­dia are but lit­tle is­lands in the sea of so­cial me­dia, so­cial me­dia has the power to sus­tain an en­light­ened so­cial or­der or cre­ate a new, de­struc­tive one. Bhutan is star­ing this re­al­ity in the face.

Gen­er­ally, so­cial me­dia in Bhutan has been a cesspool of abu­sive be­hav­iour, van­ity and petty, my­opic views. Con­sider a Face­book group called Bhutanese News & Fo­rums pop­u­lated by 122,872 peo­ple. This forum is boil­ing over with neg­a­tiv­ity and fri­vol­ity bor­der­ing on in­san­ity.

This forum likes to rip peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions apart. Any po­ten­tially con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion ta­pers off into per­son­alised at­tacks. A post about a per­son can gen­er­ate thou­sands of likes and com­ments, mean­ing thou­sands of peo­ple bark­ing and snap­ping at one an­other and en­joy­ing do­ing it. The sheer num­ber of peo­ple makes this forum too big to put down and, there­fore, wor­ry­ing. There are many such Face­book groups and pages.

Such groups fes­ter largely due to anonymity that’s pos­si­ble on so­cial me­dia. Anonymity is a creepy and shad­owy in­car­na­tion of un­scrupu­lous cow­ards. It is the very an­tithe­sis of a demo­cratic cul­ture of broad-minded de­bate and dis­course. Any per­son with an in­de­pen­dent mind and eth­i­cal scru­ples will not hide be­hind the mask of anonymity. The re­al­ity is that anony­mous or fake ac­counts blot the Bhutanese so­cial me­dia land­scape.

How­ever, anonymity – and a host of unso­cial be­hav­iour it breeds – can be crowded out if au­then­tic users do not be­friend anony­mous users and do not re­act to their posts. Even some smart peo­ple are seen be­friend­ing and in­ter­act­ing with anony­mous users un­til the lat­ter turns against them. The idea is to treat so­cial me­dia as an ex­ten­sion of our so­cial life and on­line space as an ex­ten­sion of our phys­i­cal space. Would we, in real life, be­friend and in­ter­act with peo­ple whose faces we can­not see and whose iden­tity we do not know?

Anonymity aside, so­cial me­dia can be much more mean­ing­ful if oth­er­wise well-mean­ing users can spare it reg­u­lar junk. Self­ies, food­fies (self­ies with food), per­sonal love notes and per­sonal di­aries of re­la­tion­ship hic­cups may sound in­no­cent and like­able but they add to the ir­rel­e­vant junk. They crowd out the use­ful and the con­struc­tive.

If 400 out of your 500 friends on Face­book choose to post self­ies and food­fies on a par­tic­u­lar day, you will have seen and read noth­ing worth­while by the end of that day al­though you will have spent sub­stan­tial time check­ing out the pic­tures. Imag­ine the num­ber of air­port pic­tures you will have to deal with if all your friends rou­tinely post pic­tures ev­ery time they fly out of or into an air­port.

Each so­cial me­dia user has the re­spon­si­bil­ity to gen­er­ate some­thing worth­while, kind, some­thing con­struc­tive and ap­pro­pri­ate. A big­ger re­spon­si­bil­ity falls on peo­ple in po­si­tions of power and in­flu­ence be­cause they can of­ten be big­ger than in­sti­tu­tions on so­cial me­dia.

For ex­am­ple, Dasho Sonam Kinga, the Chair­per­son of the Na­tional Coun­cil (NC), is fol­lowed by 8,338 peo­ple on Face­book whereas only 1,198 peo­ple fol­low the NC page on the same site. Nam­gay Zam, a pop­u­lar jour­nal­ist, is fol­lowed by 50,258 peo­ple on her of­fi­cial Face­book page whereas only 1,409 peo­ple fol­low Busi­ness Bhutan news­pa­per. So, what we give our “fol­low­ers” is im­por­tant.

To be re­spon­si­ble on so­cial me­dia is not a dif­fi­cult task. In fact, it’s easy. We can start by mak­ing posts in a de­cent lan­guage be­cause you are do­ing it for the thou­sands out there. Us­ing bad lan­guage on so­cial me­dia is a sin just as it is in the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try. We are pub­lish­ing in both the cases. And there’s no need to make a post if there’s none. Oth­er­wise, we are adding to the men­tal junk that buries the gems of in­for­ma­tion and ed­u­ca­tion.

We can start be­ing more au­then­tic on so­cial me­dia by putting up an au­then­tic-look­ing pro­file pic­ture, and one of our own. There’s no need to use cam­era apps that make your eyes wider, cheek­bones higher, nose longer, mouth fuller, skin smoother, eye­brows darker. Be­ing re­spon­si­ble on­line means be­ing au­then­tic.

For all the beauty apps that make our pic­tures on so­cial me­dia more beau­ti­ful, we are faced with the grow­ing chal­lenge of ugly and unau­then­tic con­tents. As the na­tion looks for­ward to an­other round of par­lia­men­tary elec­tion next year, an in­creas­ing num­ber of pic­tures, views, com­ments and ob­ser­va­tions tend to be coloured by pol­i­tics. This is not nec­es­sar­ily bad as long as we shed our masks first.

Could we pluck up enough courage to do that? Per­haps this is where we could be­gin to learn to use so­cial me­dia. – Kuensel/ANN

— STOCK SNAP

Are peo­ple us­ing their time wisely on so­cial me­dia?

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