Bhutan forms its first social media policy

Jan 14, 2015

Social media policy was also one of the topics in “UNDP Talks!”, a newly established series of public dialogues that are held at the UN House in Thimphu on current issues of interest. Over 20 participants from government agencies, media, civil society and UN agencies engaged in the discussion led by Dr. Emmanuel C. Lallana from the Philippines and Tara Limbu from BBS. (Photo: Tsoki Tenzin / UNDP)

With smart phones and 3G network reaching out to even remote areas, social media is becoming more and more accessible in Bhutan. For example the Prime Minister of Bhutan has over 46 000 followers in Facebook, and nearly 27 000 followers in Twitter – not an insignificant number in a country with a population of just over seven lakhs. Especially among the urban youth, Facebook is the most convenient way to connect and communicate with people, but at the same time there is growing concern on the lack of social media literacy and the potential negative impacts social media may have on Bhutanese society.

Due to the growing influence of social media, the Royal Government of Bhutan has felt the need to draft a comprehensive policy to promote greater understanding and responsible use of social media by public sector officials to assist in improving in service delivery and in fostering creative, informed and knowledge-based society. In 2014, as part of its inclusive governance portfolio, UNDP has been supporting the development of social media policy in Bhutan.

Mr. Kinley T. Wangchuk, Director-General of the Department of Information and Media in the Ministry of Information and Communication says that the greatest benefit of having a social media policy is to “engage government, officials and citizens to use social media as an essential tool to share government information and also as a development tool for social, economic and political change.”

The draft social media policy has been uploaded on the website of the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) for public commenting. The policy is being reviewed by the Gross National Happiness Commission, following which it is expected to be forwarded for deliberation by the Cabinet in early 2015.

Social media is an effective tool for participation, openness and sharing of information. Shifting from a traditional, top-down communication to a more participatory conversational style of social media is challenging forthe public sector everywhere. According to the draft policy in Bhutan, civil servants will benefit from a comprehensive social media training program, learning how to use social media as a tool for development and information-sharing.

In discussions around social media in Bhutan, it is often remarked that online conversations are not always only constructive. This is why the policy also entails a national social media literacy campaign which would consider both technical skills as well as ethics related to the use of social media. Media studies curriculum in schools is also envisaged to include a social media component.

Dr. Emmanuel C. Lallana, an expert on ICT for development who assisted the government in drafting the social media policy, says: "You can create your own TV channel with YouTube, your own radio through podcasting, and your own newspaper through a blog. Social media gives great power to the individual, but the choice on how to use this freedom is up to the individual. The role of the government is to increase social media literacy, not necessarily to regulate social media."

Overall, a responsible and innovative use of social media can be an important part of a more participatory governance structure. For the government, social media provides an additional public information channel to enhance transparency, accountability and ownership. This draft policy therefore, aims at enabling stronger engagement with the public and better collaboration across government agencies. Consulting the general public is seen to lead to better decision-making and more responsive service delivery that is sensitive to the needs of the users. Increased information exchange and communication through social media can also narrow the gap between citizen and state, allowing for greater citizen engagement and for the government to better understand the impact of its policies at the local level. 

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