Social media turns political battleground

As the general round of the parliamentary elections approaches, social media has become a hotspot for all sorts of political debates including mudslinging and defamatory comments.

Whether it is Twitter, Facebook or Wechat, it seems the elections have turned the nation’s focus on parties and underlying issues which are most often blatantly discussed on these online platforms.

The official campaign period for the general election has started and the battles are real.

The popular Bhutanese News and Forum and Bhutanese Forum on Facebook which has over 163,438 members update minute-by-minute posts on social media.

The updates include flaws of party pledges and manifestos, praises, opinions, polls, predictions, choice of parties and candidates, video clips, pictures, allegations and comparing of manifesto and pledges, party and candidates.

A user usually starts a political argument which escalates into a list of defamatory comments and posts against each other.

The most recent and popular post on Facebook was about Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) pledges of class X cut off point, free wifi and Suung-Joen App, providing ministers from east and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT)’s past corruption, land scam and mistakes. The users also targeted media houses, industrialists and other individuals.

It is expected that as in the earlier elections, social media will have a direct impact on the outcome of the elections this time too. In fact, it already has.

Speaking to Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) National Media Arbitrator Chador Wangdi said mudslinging on social media has been growing by the day since and before the elections.

“We are continuously monitoring and working along with the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), dzongkhag social media officers and Department of Information Technology and Telecom under Ministry of Information and Communication to monitor such cases,” he said.

Chador Wangdi added that there had been a few reports from the dzongkhags and 16 cases of posts on Facebook were forwarded to India to be removed or blocked.

DNT General Secretary Phurpa said mudslinging on social media is on rise and everyday people post about a party, president or candidates. He also added it is becoming a concern on one hand but on other hand it is beyond one’s control and such mudslinging causes damage to one’s image.

Rabi C Dahal, an independent voter said the basic idea is that one of the objectives of ‘winning’ (if there really is such a thing) and a social media political battle is to marginalize the opponent through overwhelming facts or insults, gain the support of others to your cause to isolate the opponent, and eventually silence the opponent through embarrassment, exasperation, and/or apathy.

“‘Whatever’ might be the most used ending to any political argument followed closely by some form of insult but what has happened is that an overwhelming number of people have come to the point of outright refusal to engage in the political process via social media, largely because of the sheer amount of mudslinging and harassment.” He said.

Sonam Phuntsho, a private employee said whenever people browse Facebook nowadays, one or the post is about DPT or DNT and usually the post is from a fake account.

Pem Dem, a government employee said she is tired of seeing washing of dirty linen in public.

Tashi Tshering, an independent writer said mudslinging on social media is a part of politics or campaign rhetoric, allegations and baseless accusations.

Meanwhile, DPT was unavailable for comments.

Tshering from Thimphu