Bhutanese students in school uniform are smiling as they look at an electronic device.

Social Media in Bhutan

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Second Bhutanese Bloggers Conference. The first conference was in August 2015. Everybody had such as good time they decided to have another.

For me, the conference was a chance to widen my exposure to Bhutanese culture (and to get excited about my new blog). I also learned about how Bhutanese young people are wielding the powerful tool of social media as their culture modernizes.

When you talk to a Bhutanese person about current events in the country, you often get this answer: “You don’t understand. We just modernized. We just became democratic.”

To give you an idea of Bhutan’s recent modernization:

  • 1950’s first school opened (previously only monastic education was available)
  • 1956 serfdom abolished
  • 1974 first travel visas issued
  • 1986 polio eradicated
  • 1999 TV and internet arrive
  • 2008 the country transitions from an absolute monarchy to a democratic constitutional monarchy

I don’t write this to depict Bhutan as simple or backward. Their late entry into the game has given them a chance to be more thoughtful and strategic about modernization which could be an asset. Nonetheless, the country is in a sort of development whiplash, trying to keep up while holding on to traditional values.

The challenge is would be to use a tool developed in a Western context to promote Bhutanese values.

One speaker suggested that this could only be accomplished via a paradigm shift in journalism.

He explained that the Western model reflects and strengthens Western values around individualism, justice, and liberty. Also, the Western model was borne of a shared history of fighting for independence. So, journalism in the West tends to be anti-establishment and critical of the government.

In Bhutan, the primary values are compassion, cause/effect, commitment, and contentment. Also, the Bhutanese government has a history of benevolence. The journalistic model should reflect this. He called it “Middle Path Journalism.”

Looking at how social media has been and is being used in Bhutan reflects Bhutanese values and behaviors and how they are changing.

In the beginning, people using social media shared their views anonymously. Perhaps they were afraid of the consequences of speaking out. Perhaps they were just uncomfortable being a voice that stands out (definitely a possibility in a collectivist culture).

Now the Bhutanese share their views more freely. They see social media as a way to problem solve, improve Bhutan, address injustice, and celebrate their culture.

Facebook appears to be the preferred platform for social change. One speaker talked about using Facebook to improve the condition of the nation’s public toilets. This is a cause I support!

What about the ethical dilemmas that arise? Participants wanted to know how they could protect people from being harmed on social media while, at the same time, including them. Since social media is so powerful, they asked, how do we make sure that we’re not making decisions for others? Is it defamation if it’s true? If we value contentment, does that mean that we can’t write about things we’re not happy with?

Good questions! I know how a Western would answer, and it will be interesting to how the Bhutanese answer unfolds.

Here are a couple of blogs and facebook pages that are worth checking out:

“PasSu Diary,” a popular Bhutanese blog by an educator and social worker: http://www.passudiary.com/

“Dorji Wangchuck,” a blog by the speaker who talked about Middle Path Journalism. See his post on Oct 6, 2015 on the topic: http://dorjiwangchuk.blogspot.com/2015/10/middle-path-journalism-conceptual.html

“Bhutan Toilet Org,” a facebook page advocating for improvement in restroom facilities: https://www.facebook.com/BTO.org/?fref=ts

“Bhutan Street Fashion,” a facebook page all about fashion. Some great photos of traditional dress: https://www.facebook.com/BhutanStreetFashion/?fref=ts

 

Further reading:

How social media woke up Bhutan (2014, February 9). [news article]. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-25314578

Social media to play vital role in 2013 elections (2013, May 15). [news article] Retrieved from http://www.bbs.bt/news/?p=27337

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