An interaction with the Youth on Social Media in Bhutan

SocMed & Democracy: Empowering with Accountability talk at Royal Thimphu College

My own experience

My experience with social media and social networking sites will probably be similar to experiences of many. My first exposure to social media and social networking was on a site called ‘Hi5’ (somewhere in 2005) which helped me get in touch and stay in touch with many friends, old and new. I realize this was the first time I took a picture and posted it on such a site, indicating the beginning of a journey and experience that I continue to enjoy today on Facebook. I have since then stopped using Hi5 (I would like to thank them for the wonderful experience).

During the later part of my graduate school days, a close American friend introduced me to ‘online journal’ and I still don’t remember which platform to be exact but I ventured out into registering a blog on Ofcourse, I was by then burning the mid-night oil as we say, with my master’s thesis. It may have also been an excuse but really I think I did not have too many things to write about or more precisely, bring myself to write about anything. But eventually, I returned to blogging as an amateur writer, after my election into office. I think in many ways emergence of news of other bloggers and the Bhutanese blogosphere encouraged me to come join fellow bloggers and write.

Since then my experience has been one of adventure and learning. I have discovered many new friends on the blogosphere, Facebook and also tweetdom (I have noticed these terminologies are accepted in this new world). My interactions with different people through these platforms sometimes allow me to understand differing and also similar viewpoints on issues. It also helps me sometimes pass on information regarding parliamentary works. My primary platform to share and gather viewpoints has been through a blog I maintain at until very recently. I have now migrated to a private domain name at and then using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, I am able to bring together readers and my writings. When these two come together, comments and alternative viewpoints emerge, allowing readers to primarily engage in a debate which is healthy to promote greater understanding of issues. It is not always easy to get a debate going but when it does, it makes one as an author, work more and put across one’s viewpoint more clearly to hopefully, take the debate to a deeper level for a better understanding. I found this excerpt particularly relevant to elected representatives and why someone like me uses it or may use it.

Social media in particular enables politicians to communicate directly with the electorate without being edited or filtered by the traditional news media – Malcolm Turnbull (Fmr OL Aus)

Ofcourse, whenever we talk of social networking site, I am transported to my constituents in deeper Gasa like Laya and Lunana. Not only do we in Bhutan have a rural based population who cannot read and write, but effective telecommunication is yet to be established. This obviously is a concern and I am happy that the Government is trying to get them connected on priority. However, getting them connected will not necessarily solve the problem as we still face the challenge of literacy. I am not quite sure how we can address this issue considering that our rural population needs to be informed equally but I suppose talking about that would be side tracking in today’s forum. I was however, very happy that someone asked and expressed his concern at the forum and my reaction to it was that Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS hereafter) in it’s capacity as a Public Service Broadcaster (PSB hereafter) has been shouldering a very important responsibility and function of keeping everyone, with our rural population included, informed as far as possible.  I also stressed how Social Media and Social Networking Sites (SMS hereafter) could be used by citizens to do precisely that by young people who were more savy with these technologies.

An important experience I have had as a law-maker on social networking sites have ofcourse been the recent emergence of strong critics and opinions. I believe that Bhutan’s experience of democracy maybe different in the sense that the coming of democracy into Bhutan was at a time when communication platforms like modern telecommunication, internet and now SMS arrived and their usage has changed phenomenally and communication happens at an exponential rate. This has greatly changed many societies all over the world in the way they communicate and one can only imagine the profound impact it can or is already bringing to a small society like ours.


To be heard and noted

As I law-maker I feel it is my duty to try and clarify a few things as far as being heard on issues goes in Bhutan from my own understanding. SMS certainly lends convenience but a democratic culture does not begin and end there. SMS are mere platforms and therefore, unless the people can understand and appreciate a democratic culture of responsibility and accountability, it may remain just a platform. And where people adopt a democratic culture of responsibility and accountability, everything else will follow. The Bhutanese Parliament and more specifically, the National Council and all it’s Members, meet people who come to see them with problems and issues all the time, both in their offices in Thimphu and while visiting their constituencies and ofcourse, constituents. It may not always necessarily be about issues regarding one particular law but this is to say that we have an ‘open door policy’ and rightly so because we have not forgotten that we have been elected to Parliament by the people to protect their rights. Perhaps in that sense, comparing what has happened recently in countries where people used SMS and sparked off movements, maybe being a little unfair. Just as the 1st law-makers in democratic Bhutan, our constituents the Bhutanese are also exploring their own ways as citizenry of a new democratic state, establishing procedures and shaping our new democracy collectively as we move into our 3rd year of democracy; this will become the basis for our own democratic culture, suiting the needs of our time. That is why WE (decision makers and citizens) need to be mindful of the kind of culture that we propound today. I do not think that any idea is bad or good, but certainly the relevance is most important. Relevance to our small country where culture is the fabric of our community and the kind of impact any change could bring to it will always need to be carefully thought out by each and every one of us. Having said that, I welcome critics as I know I would have been nothing short of critical if I were in their place. We must also understand that as much as it is important for voices to be heard, it is equally vital that these concerns are raised in a manner that is understood in the right context and genuine, not only by decision makers but also by fellow netizens. For it is through building credibility even amongst fellow netizens that issues raised can garner greater support, making it easier to be heard and noticed.

This is not to say that all criticisms are inappropriate, I found many presenting strong viewpoints with very good reasoning. These sorts of critiques are easier to be accepted as it allows for others to reflect and maybe even re-consider their own positions, allowing for concerns to be received by the people for whom they were meant in the first place. It also shows the level of understanding (of an issue) by the person critiquing and lends credibility and hence, a window of opportunity for a reasonable dialogue may be established. I say this as someone who has received feedback and comments, which have been very engaging and constructive, bottom line – helpful in making me think from different perspectives. I can only urge you to put yourself in the shoes of people who you wish to talk to or write to; how or what would make you feel comfortable to hear out grievances? It’s a reflective question and I believe each one of us will find the answer within us.

In conclusion, Social Media and Social Networking Sites are here to stay and will affect our lives more and more with the penetration of internet and telecommunication technology into our lives. I would like to say that Bhutanese agencies should not only wake up to social media but seize the opportunity to capitalize on it.



About Sangay Khandu

Elected to Parliament of Bhutan twice. Previously worked with the Central Bank, the largest SoE (power utility) and international organization.
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3 Responses to An interaction with the Youth on Social Media in Bhutan

  1. Dasho,
    Thank you for your wonderful presentations there at RTC and thought provoking writeup. The articles in your blog are simple and easy to understand and that is why i enjoy reading it.
    Dasho, keep writing and show a bright example as you are doing now to youths like us. All the best la…

  2. Sangay says:

    I can only agree with you here.

    But, my statement would be more of Oxymoron here.

    Social media has gained so much popularity irrespective of young and old. It often functions as the way of communicating messages faster to wide users as well as stimulates “healthy” debates in a wider forum. There are people (elderly) who thinks social media is for “teenager” and not for the, so called, professionals, elderly, law makers and workaholics.

    As indicated by you, social media does help in bringing old friends (childhood, school, college, etc. friends) together and helps in refreshing all the memories and brings smile on one’s face. If I put it by example, recently i met my college friend (after nearly 9 years), who is from Nagaland in Facebook. That is when we started talking on our ragging experiences as a freshers in the Indian college that we went. The experiences were bitter, but, as we re-called, it brought back lots of memories and joy. Thus, social media does help in promoting happiness to the netizens.

    Social media should be encouraged in the country but after imposing certain stringent rules. I have personally seen many office-goers spending half of their time in office just by visiting the site and chatting. Social media’s are drugs, they are addictive. Some offices have already embarked on implementing the rules by allowing access to social sites only during lunch breaks. I think it is good to compel people to work. Though i personally hate to see people deprived of their rights, but it doesn’t work in Bhutan. It doesn’t work in Bhutan to leave telephone services open to everyone without locking it, it doesn’t work in Bhutan to let people work from home, it doesn’t work in Bhutan to let pedestrian walk after stopping the car. Example, a month ago, I was driving in Thimphu (by memorial chorten) and upon seeing people waiting by “ZEBRA” cross, i stopped my car to give them way, that is when a “LAND CRUISER” honked and passed my car nearly hitting the pedestrian. I had goosebumps. Nothing really works in Bhutan, without following the barbaric rules of controlling everything. It is SAD, VERY SAD and SAD. In Bhutan, just by putting up signs of NO ENTRY will not work, there should be a police man standing by the signs to enforce the word “NO ENTRY”.

    It may take centuries for the people of our country to reach a systematic state. To understand the importance of giving way to emergencies (ambulance and fire trucks), to honk in the right place, to park cars in right place, to respect people from within and not superficial.

    If my above statement make you think that, I am frustrated of life, you are wrong. Yes, I am still wondering when will Bhutanese improve our mentality and start to analyze everything critically, rather than accepting everything.

    Happily and sadly I would like to end with, Bhutan is developing but not Bhutanese.

  3. Willie Gross says:

    Great post, I\’ll certainly forward this helpful article. Thank you for taking the time to create and make great reads like this. Kind regards John

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