A Yangtse farmer, Tshering Denkar, was shocked when he watched a short video clip of a Bhutanese couple sharing information of plastic cabbage. In the video, the couple warns Bhutanese to be cautious when they go vegetable shopping. They burn the layers of the big bud (cabbage) and compare with a real cabbage.
Amazed by the video, the first instinct, Tshering Denkar said, was to share it with her fellow farmers. She need not run from house to house or call the village chipon (messenger). She shares the video on Wechat, a social media application. Most of the farmers with mobile phones in his village are on Wechat. “It is so convenient,” says the 57-year-old farmer. “Even an illiterate farmer can make us of it.”
Social media has penetrated the remotest of Bhutan and it is creating an impact- for good and bad, says users. In the villages, it is not Facebook or LinkedIn or Whats App, but the Wechat, a Chinese app that has hooked most Bhutanese. Today, Trashiyangtse have 12,088 Bmobile users and 4,029 Tcell users
There is also a group who share religious sermons and prayers.
It is used for entertainment, communication and information sharing and it is the most effective, say villagers. “We need not know how to write. It is even better when the receiver can hear our voice, especially when they are far away from home,” says Denkar.
Bhutan has an estimated 250,000 Facebook users or 32.5 percent of the population. But it is Wechat that is popular among the rural folks.
Yangtse Gup, Gonenpu said people at the gewog and chiwog level are mostly comfortable using Wechat. “During important events in the chiwog or gewog, tshogpas are either informed via phone or with a message of the event in Wechat group. People share views and opinions and share workloads,” he said.
Trashiyangtse has access to newspapers and television, but villagers say they get most of the things that are not covered in the mainstream from social media. Another farmer Dorji Lheto said Wechat is the most popular “time pass” after TV, as people are singing, download songs, posting videos, updating latest news feeds around the country.
The head of the dzongkhag, Dzongda Dasho Thuji Tshering uses social media too. He said it is handy. The dzongkhag created a group in Whats App, where sector heads share information and discuss issues on a daily basis. “It is more active during emergencies to send and receive reports, information, pictures and discuss,” he said.
The dzongdag believes social media increases transparency and accountability. “People are more informed about the government’s initiatives. We can take part in the discussions and stay updated even when we are out on tour,” he said.
However, the dzongdag warned that about the risks associated with social media applications. He said officials need to be on more secure applications.
The Trashiyangtse dzongkhag Facebook page has 535 followers and most of the posts are of day to day event held in the dzongkhag along with live videos, pictures, and announcements. The dzongkhag web portal contains mostly announcements, tender, vacancy, community centers status and also provides information on news and events. Web portal also give full glimpse of the whole dzongkhag to gewog information.
In the dzongkhag web portal it contain mostly announcements, tender, vacancy, community centers status and also provides information on news and events. Web portal also give full glimpse of the whole dzongkhag to gewog information.
Dzongkhag ICT Officer, Kinzang Dema said for official purpose, dzongkhag officials are advised to use Whats App and Telegram and beyond official works it’s in their own hand to use.
She also added that during the ICT programs at gewog level officials will be trained for the usage of social media and use Whats Apps for official purpose. “At the chiwog level, as most of the tshogpas is not aware of it (Whats App) it is a bit of complicated.”
Bumdeling Gup, Mani Wangda is aware of the security of the applications. He said he heard that Wechat is prone to hackers. “It is a bit complicated to explain to the farmers.”
Yangtse Gup, Gonenpu said people at the gewog and chiwog level are mostly comfortable using wechat and even uneducated villagers are in wechat only but educated ones especially students are on facebook and other social media apps.
Dorji Lheto farmer said this day’s wechat is commonly famous in villages and becoming a most popular time pass after TV, as people are singing, download songs, posting videos, updating latest news feeds around the country.
While social media has become a powerful toolkit organizing activities, events, or groups to showcase issues and opinions and make a wider audience aware of them, internet connectivity is still an issue in the dzongkhag.
Kamdang Gewog Administrative Officer, Rinzin Dorji said internet connectivity is not very stable so sometimes the app could not be used when really needed. This also affected the government G2C online services in the gewogs.
Sonam Dema, Community Centre in-charge shared the same. She said internet connection has become crucial now because many of the public services are delivered online. “Poor connectivity hampers service delivery as most people come in gewog community centre to avail G2C services and printing of documents.”
Yangtse Gup, Gonenpu said important events in the chiwog or gewog, tshogpas are either informed via phone or talk about the event in wechat group and in a group people share views and opinions and share workloads.
Social networks are basically a platform in internet where individuals keep themselves updated with latest social activities and news. At the same time it gives organizations, various business firm, politicians and different public figure an open space to publicize, advertise and get interacted with users.
Bumdeling Gup, Mani Wangda said sometime it’s very difficult to reach every tshogpa in times of talks and share of important views due to unavailable of internet services in the chiwogs.
The downside of social media is also experienced in Trashiyangtse. Rinzin Dorji said that there had been some cases of domestic violence because of the usage of social media.