After several friends suggested it, I’ve added a new page called “News clips”. The idea is to provide links to news articles, especially to critical ones, that talk about what the opposition party and I have been doing.
Social media has already made remarkable inroads in Bhutan. In past five years, there’s been a proliferation of discussion forums, social networking sites and blogs. And some of them – like Bhutantimes.com, Nopkin, Kuzu-Bhutan Weblog, Kuzu.net and several Facebook groups – have emerged as powerful ways of creating, sharing and discussing information.
Foremost among them is Amend the Tobacco Control Act, a Facebook group created by Kinley Shering, dedicated to discussing the tobacco law. The group’s 2,252 members have already logged 1,417 posts, and both, numbers of members and posts, keep increasing each day.
The tobacco group’s discussions are diverse, vibrant and persistent. And its members readily express their opinions and vent their frustrations. This, however, is not exactly new, as online discussion forums, like Bhutantimes.com, also host lively discussions.
But Amend the Tobacco Group is different in several other ways. One, and most obviously, the group’s members are not anonymous – Facebook profiles generally have real names along with real addresses, photographs, email IDs and even telephone numbers.
Two, the discussions are focused on just one topic, tobacco, and have some order and discipline – members are not unnecessarily nasty, abusive or profane.
And three, the group has organized real measures to back up their virtual demands. First, they collected signatures – online and off – to petition for an amendment to the Tobacco Control Act. That has not worked, so now they have begun to write letters to their respective MPs and to publish those letters on Facebook.
All this is powerful stuff. And potentially dangerous too.
If the group is ignored, if their voices remain unheard, and if frustration grows, emotions could escalate and spill onto Thimphu’s streets. That would not be good. And that must not happen.
So the government would be well advised to take the group seriously. They should join the group and explain their position. They should take part in the discussions, listen to the grievances, and spearhead common solutions.
In a healthy democracy, citizens must be able to express themselves – individually and collectively. Facebook has provided a platform to do so. We can protest, rally, picket and demonstrate online, on Facebook. But for that to work, the government must also take part, and ensure that the voices on Facebook groups are heard.
The government should use Facebook, not ignore it. That’s why I say: “Rather than taking to the streets, take it to Facebook!”