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 blogspot.com. 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 www.sangaykhandu.wordpress.com until very recently. I have now migrated to a private domain name at www.sangaykhandu.com 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.