Impostor!

Impersonating anyone on social media is easy. All that’s needed is to create an account using that person’s name, photo and other relevant information. And the impersonator is in business.

We’ve seen one person impersonate the prime minister on Twitter. And another person, also on Twitter, has been going around as MP Tshering Penjor. More recently, someone has opened a Facebook page pretending to be me.

I don’t mind impersonators on social media, especially if their purpose is to expose and make fun of the stupidity and excesses of public officials. This type of satire could generate much-needed laughter, while also subtly passing on important messages to the public as well as the targeted official.

But it’s dangerous, and unacceptable, when impersonators become impostors. The purpose of impersonators is to entertain and to poke fun at public officials. The purpose of impostors is to deceive and mislead the public.

The person who pretends to be me on Facebook is an impostor. That impostor has used my name with my photograph to deceive my Facebook followers that Bhutanomics is run by PDP and The Bhutanese. In fact, that impostor even misled BBS into believing that it was really me.

I’ve expressed my views, even very critical ones, openly and honestly during my term as MP. I’ve done so in the Parliament, in the media, when interacting with the public, and on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. I do not need (thankfully) the cover of anonymity to discharge my duties as a member of the opposition party. And no, I do not have any thing to do with Bhutanomics.

I wrote about Bhutanomics because I’m against illegal censorship. But there’s a bigger reason I wrote about it:  I’m frightened that any one who can order the illegal closure of a website could also, just as easily, order phone conversations to be tapped and SMS messages to be tracked, illegally.

 

Illegal censorship

Loud and clear

Loud and clear

Bhutanomics is a political satire blog set up by “Bhutan analyzers” who are committed to keeping a check on the “ballooning egos of the powerful so that they don’t forget the people are watching.”

The blog was launched in March, last year. And within no time, they attracted a large and faithful following which seemed to keep growing. Traffic to the blog was so high that the administrators were forced to upgrade and expand their website infrastructure several times.

Then, all of a sudden, on 12 January, Bhutanomics went dead. Their website was inaccessible. In fact, users of Tashi’s or Samden’s ISPs could access it. And anyone outside the country could access it. The website could also be accessed using anonymous proxy servers.But anyone using the Druknet’s internet services could not access the website.

Druknet is Bhutan’s biggest ISP. And Druknet is a government-owned company.

Most followers were convinced that Druknet had blocked Bhutanomics. But Druknet denied it. The information and communication secretary and BICMA, the media’s regulator, also denied any involvement in blocking Bhutanomics. And the cabinet secretary denied issuing any order to block the website.

Yet, Bhutanomics was not accessible. And full access to it was reinstated only only after the outpouring of public outrage threatened to grow. The controversial website is back online. But all is not well. All cannot be considered to be well until the perpetrators of the blatant censorship of Bhutanomics are exposed and bought to full account.

I’m reproducing below the full interview between Bhutanomics and Kuensel with the hope that we reflect on what happened; that we continue to ask questions; and that we commit to fighting any and all forms of illegal censorship. 

 

Q. Well firstly, I haven’t yet confirmed with Druknet/BICMA if Bhutanomics is indeed blocked, but attempts to access it so far seem to indicate it is.

A. Bhutanomics hasn’t been accessible in Bhutan since 12 Jan 2013. Strange thing is its still viewable through a proxy server.

Just as a precaution, have you checked with your own web host to eliminate any technical reasons?

Our website is firing on all cylinders. Bhutanomics is accessible everywhere in the world except Bhutan. Why would we spend precious little money we have to run a website that doesn’t work?

If it is indeed blocked, like what happened to the previous version of Bhutan Times, then my question to you would be whether you think this censorship of free speech, and why?

Obviously it is. Bhutanomics is not like the old website bhutantimes. In that most of the focus was on anti-national rhetoric by people in the camps. Only prior to the 2008 elections did bhutantimes begin to approach domestic politics and that was restricted to bashing one main person contesting for prime minister. We suppose, if Bhutanomics did that i.e. bash someone other than the ruling government (we could even bash the country it seems) we would not be banned. We would be welcomed.

As you can see Bhutanomics has no affiliation. Everyone is a fair target. Everyone is allowed to contribute. The central theme is that we care for the country and each article is about something that makes us worried, whether it is bad policy or personality flaws or sheer stupidity on the part of those in power.

If you aspire to positions of power, you must be able to take the brickbats. In America, groups have questioned openly the very citizenship of the president.

If the PM can take unlimited praise such as “JYT phenomenon”, “world statesman”, “no other leader like him”, “solver of the Amochu problem,” and so on, then he should be able to accept that there are others who think otherwise.

If meetings and conferences were open and criticism and argument were permitted instead of avenged by the government (such as with many civil servants, dzongdags and newspapers) then Bhutanomics may be unnecessary.

But with the lack of space for free criticism we have to resort to this.

By banning us, the ruling government has joined that very special group of governments in North Korea, Cuba, China, Syria, etc., where there is censorship of the internet.

How would you respond to comments that some material on your website is defamatory/personal attacks/perhaps could undermine a free and fair elections?

The stories that we have published are all contributed by people – people who are concerned about the state of the country. We just provide the platform and the security for those people to express themselves.

The parts considered unbearable by those in power are what in other countries is called satire and lampooning. Check out NDTV’s political cartoon or The Onion in the US or the numerous ones in the UK.

Banning criticism is really the situation where free and fair elections are not possible.

What is the purpose of Bhutanomics? And when was it established?

We have been around since the beginning of 2012. We think of ourselves as the Bhutan analyzers who try to keep up with the happenings in the corridors of power. We try to keep a check on the ballooning egos of the powerful so that they don’t forget the people are watching.

Given presence of proxy servers, Facebook, and Twitter, does such a block really matter to you?

The block proves that our government cannot stand any form of criticism. That matters to us. If they are sincerely doing their duty why would they be averse to criticism?

Yes proxy servers means people can still read bhutanomics but that’s not the point. If people feel a certain way about something they should be allowed to say it. Why block them? It’s a futile exercise. You can’t block the internet in this day and age. Instead the government should read between the lines of the satire and try to correct their mistakes.