Free speech without responsibility

The political scene is heating up. Although not much is happening on the physical front, it appears, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have virtually become a political hotbed as the dates for the second parliamentary elections draw closer.

This is a trend which was almost nonexistent in the warm up to the 2008 elections. Parties of all stripes have taken to the social media. They are leaving no stone unturned in garnering fan followings and posting regular updates about their party. The posts, however, keep reverting to the subject of parties, its beliefs and what makes one different from the others.

politics3However, call it the dark side of politics, negative campaigning has started in earnest. A case in point is the recent incident where an anonymous Facebook user started a fake page on the Opposition Leader, insinuating that Bhutanomics.com, that claims to be a satirical website, was started by People Democratic Party (PDP). Earlier, someone impersonated the Prime Minister in Twitter.

The PDP president has vehemently denied anything to do with Bhutanomics. The Opposition Leader wrote in his blog, “That impostor has used my name with my photograph to deceive my Facebook followers that Bhutanomics is run by PDP and The Bhutanese.”

It has become quite palpable that such an attempt, using the cover of anonymity, was perhaps targeted to malign the PDP. In the same vein, the Bhutanomics has been publishing controversial articles on Lyonchhen and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) government.

In fact, it has been overtly hitting individuals, institutions and the government with a plethora of attacks and criticism that borders on outright defamation. In one of its recent articles, it outlines 16 reasons why DPT shouldn’t be voted in the upcoming elections.

The Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression but at times it appears that our understanding of this right is thoroughly skewed. We tend to forget the responsibilities that come with such freedoms. Can we just wear a mask and unload our wrath and resentment against individuals and institutions? What does that speak of us as a democratic society? Is it healthy for a young democracy like ours?

In addition, the question that begs an answer is, who is keeping an eye on such developments in the vast social media space? The Election Commission of Bhutan has drawn a social media policy but what after that! What about media regulator BICMA?

It’s precarious when social media is being used as a forum where people vicariously become the judge, jury and prosecutor and start convicting one another. Sadly, this is what is happening now. And it is just the beginning.  In the months to follow, it is likely that politics will get dirtier.

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