Could so­cial me­dia be the de­cid­ing fac­tor in NA elec­tions?

Business Bhutan - - Opinion - RABI C DAHAL The writer is a free­lance jour­nal­ist.

As the third par­lia­men­tary elec­tions are near­ing, pol­i­tick­ing is heat­ing up per diem. Politi­cians – vet­eran and as­pir­ing – are at full throt­tle al­ready pro­mot­ing their can­di­da­ture.

This time round, though, cam­paign­ing has taken a shift. There will of course be speeches and meet­ings and vis­its to the con­stituen­cies, once the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Bhutan of­fi­cially de­clares the elec­tion pe­riod. But politi­cians are in­creas­ingly us­ing so­cial me­dia, par­tic­u­larly Face­book, Wechat, and Twit­ter to reach to the elec­torates.

The 2018 elec­tion will be billed as the In­ter­net elec­tion, the so­cial me­dia elec­tion – with much at­ten­tion fo­cused on how cam­paign­ers, com­men­ta­tors and vot­ers would re­spond to ground break­ing dig­i­tal cam­paigns. From Twit­ter to Face­book, through vi­ral crowd-sourced elec­tion ad­ver­tis­ing, sen­ti­ment track­ing and In­ter­net polling, tech­nol­ogy ap­peared to of­fer po­lit­i­cal par­ties pow­er­ful new ways to en­gage vot­ers and au­di­ences. And there are high hopes that th­ese new forms of per­sonal ex­pres­sion through so­cial net­works would widen par­tic­i­pa­tion and the range of demo­cratic voices.

So­cial me­dia or so­cial net­work ser­vices are com­monly de­scribed by means of their in­ter­ac­tive and net­work­ing fea­tures that let users in­ter­act, cre­ate, com­mu­ni­cate, and share con­tent. Faster In­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity cou­pled with cheap smart phones, and the size­able num­ber of young vot­ers has come as boon to the politi­cians to seize big­ger vote bank.

The past few months saw pro­lif­er­a­tion of in­di­vid­ual and fan pages of politi­cians and par­ties. All the four po­lit­i­cal par­ties have fan page on Face­book with in­creas­ing fan fol­low­ing. The po­ten­tial for po­lit­i­cal par­ties to con­nect, com­mu­ni­cate, mo­bi­lize, fundraise, and af­fect the news agenda through so­cial me­dia are some of the strate­gic rea­sons why po­lit­i­cal par­ties are in­creas­ingly per­form­ing on­line pol­i­tics. A team of former jour­nal­ists and ded­i­cated sup­port­ers reg­u­larly post up­dates on the pages.

There are sev­eral Face­book pages where mem­bers dis­cuss is­sues in­clud­ing pol­i­tics; One such page of Bhutanese News and Fo­rums.

The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Bhutan (ECB) also has a Face­book page where it up­dates elec­tion-re­lated no­ti­fi­ca­tions.

The ECB de­fines so­cial me­dia as on­line and mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion, shar­ing or pub­lish­ing plat­form, whether ac­cessed through the web, a mo­bile de­vice, text mes­sag­ing, email or any other ex­ist­ing or emerg­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion plat­form used to pub­lish and in­ter­act with the wider pub­lic or in­di­vid­u­als, gen­er­ally by means of the In­ter­net, web-based in­ter­faces or cel­lu­lar tech­nol­ogy.

Ac­cord­ing to the ECB’s reg­u­la­tion, any com­mu­ni­ca­tion via tele­phonic means, in­clud­ing in­di­vid­ual or bulk SMS or the in­ter­net in­clud­ing Twit­ter, Face­book, YouTube, GooglePlus, blogs, web­sites, per­sonal or of­fi­cial, in­di­vid­ual or en­tity, tex­tual or graph­ics shall be de­ter­mined as po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing if the con­tent per­tains to elec­tions, po­lit­i­cal views or po­si­tions, or in any way can be un­der­stood to be in sup­port or against a can­di­date or party con­test­ing

Bhutan has a large youth pop­u­la­tion. Politi­cians have now re­alised the im­por­tance of so­cial me­dia and in­dis­pen­si­ble cam­paign tool. So­cial me­dia al­low politi­cians to di­rectly re­spond and com­mu­ni­cate with vot­ers, which makes it a lot eas­ier for the vot­ers de­cide which party to vote for.

How­ever, politi­cians and po­lit­i­cal par­ties should know how to use so­cial me­dia ef­fec­tively within the lim­its of the elec­tion laws.

Ac­cord­ing to the ECB’s so­cial me­dia reg­u­la­tion, can­di­dates and po­lit­i­cal par­ties shall be re­quired to sub­mit the ad­dresses or links of the so­cial me­dia be­ing used for elec­tion cam­paign to the Com­mis­sion. Dur­ing the black­out pe­riod (48 hour pe­riod be­fore poll and un­til the close of polls), no one shall pub­lish, broad­cast, or trans­mit any item that is of the na­ture of elec­tion cam­paign sup­port­ing or op­pos­ing any po­lit­i­cal party or can­di­date.

The re­stric­tions also ap­ply to In­ter­net ad­ver­tis­ing even if it is claimed to be “free”. How­ever, an In­ter­net ad­ver­tis­ing pub­lished be­fore and not al­tered dur­ing the 48-hour no-cam­paign pe­riod can re­main posted as long as no fur­ther elec­tronic dis­tri­bu­tion of that ad­ver­tise­ment is car­ried out.

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