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How social media is changing Lhuentse

Information that often took days and weeks to be disseminated among people in various places in Lhuentseearlier is now being done with just a couple of mouse clicks.

This is how information dissemination in one of the remotest Dzongkhag in the east with one of the highest poverty ratesin the country has changed over the years and all thanks to development in technologies, especially internet and the advent of social media.

Apart from its Dzongkhag webpage www.lhuentse.gov.bt, the Dzongkhag administration uses social media, popularly Facebook, for dissemination of information and in giving out public information

. LhuentseDzongrab Kinley Dorjiacknowledges that social media apps have helped the Dzongkhag Administration to reach information to their people effectively within a short span of time.

He explains that all the important information and news are posted on the Dzongkhag’s Facebook page and that it’s updated regularly. “We just don’t only update and share information, but we also provide people to engage in discussion. We provide citizens to comment on policy, report crimes, in sharing and expressing their views,” he said.

He adds that the works and activities that they post on their Facebook page are not only viewed by the people in Lhuentse, but rare also viewed by people in the country and that such a trend is good. “There is more scrutiny now. We have to be on our toes more than ever. It’s good. This would also ensure transparency and accountability,” Kinley Dorji explains.

Apart from the Dzongkhag Facebook page which is updated regularly, the Dzongkhag Administration also uses its webpage, goggle page, telegram, WeChat groups for sector heads for sharing information and in keeping the civil servants and the people informed.

And for civil servants in Lhuentse, social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter and WeChat have not only helped them to stay in touch with their friends and relatives elsewhere, but they are also making them aware of the developments happening in Thimphu and the major decisions taken there.

A civil servant working with the Dzongkhag RNR office says they rely mostly on Facebook for outside information.

“We often miss the evening news on TV. Sometimes the signals are erratic. Newspapers reach here more than days after they get published. Thanks to Facebook, we are at least aware of what’s happening outside Lhuentse,” he adds.

Another popular social media or mobile application used by officials in Lhuentse Dzongkhag is WeChat, a popular Chinese multi-purpose messaging and social media app that was first released in 2011. This is mostly used by the Dzongkhag’s sector heads to sharing information and news.

“We have two WeChat groups and it has proven to be the most effective method of getting feedback and sharing information more efficiently within a short span of time and it also acts as a discussion panel,” a sector head in Lhuentse says.

“It has helped us to discuss issues in our sector, review progress of the works that are underway and helped explore solutions to problems that are there,” he adds.

Additionally, almost every gewog and village in Lhuentse has a WeChat group, that are headed and administered by village Gups and Tshogpas. They share information and latest news that they get from offices of the Dzongkhag and Gewog Administration.

And while the trend of Chipons moving from one household to another, from one community to another, sharing news and information is still prevalent in most of the villages, even they use WeChat to share information most of the times.

Meanwhile, TshogpaChoniDorji from Wambur village in Tshenkhar Gewog, Lhuentse, who has created a WeChat group along with the villagers, says it has been effective in sharing information to the villagers.

Choni Dorji, who is also the administrator of the group, mentions that he shares news and information that he gets from the Dzongkhag and Gewog Administration to the villagers and also discusses issues in the group chat.

Another resident, AumWangmo from Tshenkhar Gewog, meanwhile, also depends on WeChat to know about what is going to happen in the village or Gewog.

“Such technologies are very helpful if we use in a productive ways. But for some, I have heard that it has even created fights among couple and people separating from each other because of this,” she adds.

Similarly, even teachers from most of the schools in Lhuentse Dzongkhag have formed WeChat groups to keep in touch and as a means to share news and information regarding to their schools and teaching activities.

However, as villagers increasingly receive latest news and updates on their cell phones, connect to their friends and relatives, far and near, many don’t seem to be equipped to analyze, evaluate and understand the information that they get on their cellphones. Many villagers seem to be in oblivion when asked how they differentiate real content from fake content, and real news from fake news.

Tshenkhar Gup TshetenWangdi said some rural people trusted almost all of what they see on social media.

“On many occasions, they seem to be misled by the fake stories posted and shared by their friends on social media. They don’t use it productively. And with many people owing smart phones, they also have to be constantly reminded to concentrate during important Gewog zomdus,” he explains.

And apart from social media, radio, however, remains a very popular media among people in Lhuentse. Perhaps because of people’s ability and its easier usability, many still depend on the radio for news and entertainment.

“Phones are very difficult to use compared to a radio. That’s why we use radio for entertainment and also to keep ourselves informed about what is happening across the country and to update ourselves with the latest news,” says Kezangla, a farmer from Gangzur.

Lhuentse, meanwhile, is a remote Dzongkhag with high poverty incidence in the east. The Dzongkhag is enriched with deep rooted tradition and culture.  All its eight Gewogsare endowed with its own unique local cultural festivals which are celebrated around the year.

The Dzongkhag has achieved over 98% of telecommunication connectivity with only Tsango village under Khoma left unconnected due to the sheer distance. The Dzongkhag is recently connected with 3G internet services. According to records maintained by Lhuentse’ Gewog Administration Office and Regional Office, there were 136 households with fixed telephone connection and 88 households with internet access as of 2016. While Tashi-Cell users’ numbers were not divulged, there were 9,500 B-Mobile users in 2013 that increased to 10,300 as of 2016.

Jigme Wangchen from Lhuentse