Draft Social Media Policy by Election Commission of Bhutan

Election Commission of Bhutan

Social media will no doubt play a crucial role during the 2013 elections. The Election Commission of Bhutan is working on a social media policy, a draft of which is provided here, for your information, and comments.

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1. Preamble

1) The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB):

Believing personal and collective choice is fundamental to a democratic society;

Enhancing civic engagement can lead to healthier and more vibrant communities;

Recognizing that Social Media, in this digital age, is an effective and instantaneous means for interaction and networking in a landlocked country; and

Reaffirming that the Social Media tools provide new opportunities to solve problems, disseminate information and engage the public/ community towards collective action providing space for public debate that could lead to more intelligent policy and decision making,

hereby adopts the ECB Social Media Policy 2012 to ensure proper usage of Social Media by the ECB, election officials, Political Parties, Candidates and their supporters as well as the media agencies in all matters related to elections, during or outside the Election Period.

2. Definition

1) Social Media means the online and mobile communication, collaboration, sharing or publishing platform, whether accessed through the web, a mobile device, text messaging, email or any other existing or emerging communication platform used to publish and interact with the wider public or individuals, generally by means of the Internet, web-based interfaces or cellular technology.

2) Political Advertising means dissemination, distribution, discussion or exhibition of advertisements by Political Parties, Candidates and any other authorised persons during elections reaching out to gain competitive advantage over the other Political Parties and Candidates and/or wishing to influence the electorate in their making informed choices.

3. Objectives

3) The objectives of the ECB Social Media Policy are to:
a. Promote the responsible use of the Social Media for effective communication among electoral stakeholders;

b. Ensure a level playing field for all the contestants and Political Parties in the use of Social Media in an election; and

c. Prevent and control any violation of the Electoral Laws in the use of Social Media in elections.

4. Social Media and Accountability

4) Every user of the Social Media shall have the responsibility to carry out oversight duty and report to the election authorities any violation of the laws, in particular the Election Code of Conduct by Political Parties, Candidates, Voters, media, electoral officers or workers of Political Parties.

5) Every Candidate and Political Party must submit the addresses/links of the Social Media being used for election campaign to the Election Commission.

6) The addresses/links of the Social Media being used for election campaign shall be submitted through the concerned Returning Officer at the time of filing the Letter of Intent/filing Nominations.

7) No individuals shall communicate/transmit hate messages or any content with intent to defame or reduce the electoral chances of opposing contestants or Political Parties.

8) The Election Commission shall, though users of Social media are expected to self-regulate against abuse for narrow political objectives and gains, monitor to see that Electoral Laws are not violated.

9) The Office of the Media Arbitrator shall be responsible to monitor and arbitrate all media related disputes.

5. Political Advertising

10) Any Communication via telephonic means including individual or bulk SMS or the internet including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google plus, blogs, websites, personal or official, individual or entity, textual or graphics shall be determined as political advertising if the content pertains to elections, political views or positions, or in any way can be understood to be in support or against a Candidate or Party contesting elections.

11) Any communication or material sent or forwarded or relayed by a civil servant, a Religious Personality, a member of Royal Family or armed forces in support or opposition of a Political Party or a Candidate shall be treated as political advertising and in direct violation of the Electoral Laws, if so alleged and proven.

6. Black-Out Period

12) The 48 hour period before poll and until the close of Polls, under the Laws, is also referred as blackout period, during which:
(1) No one shall publish, broadcast, or transmit any item that is of the nature of election campaign supporting or opposing any Political Party or Candidate.

(2) The restrictions on the 48-hour no-campaign period shall apply even in situations where Internet advertising is claimed to be “free”.

(3) Internet advertising established before and not altered during the 48-hour no-campaign period can remain posted, however, further electronic distribution of that advertisement shall be prohibited.

(4) Genuine news reporting, including interviews, commentaries, or other works prepared for and published by any newspaper, magazine, or other periodic publication in any medium, free of any charges, on or about a contesting Candidate/Party’s campaign shall not be treated as political advertising as long as it is balanced and not in the nature of campaigning for any particular Candidate/Party.

(5) Personal emails and similar personal communications on the Internet shall not be subject to the blackout period provided such communications do not amount to political advertising.

7. Third Party Election Advertising

13) Third Party Election Advertising conducted under false identity by the contesting Candidate, Party or representative or any individual shall be regarded as a criminal offence under electoral laws to be prosecutable in a court of law.

14) Third Party Election Advertising or any political advertising in print, broadcast or online on behalf of a Political Party or a Candidate is prohibited if run by any individual other than a registered member of a Political Party or Election representative of a Candidate with the purpose of promoting or opposing, directly or indirectly, a Political Party or Candidate contesting in an election.

8. Fair and Accurate Reporting

15) All media agencies, audio, visual or print shall issue and abide by their individual Editorial Guidelines which should include the principles as in Annexure 1.

16) Online polls on support or opposition to Political Parties or Candidates shall not be permitted during the Election Period.

17) All users of Social Media shall acknowledge the importance of accurate and balanced reporting by not omitting facts of major importance or significance.

18) Parties, Candidates or their supporters shall refrain from biased communication sharing that favors a particular Candidate or a Political Party and/or slanderous of the opponents.

19) Parties, Candidates or their supporters shall be responsible to offer an accurate picture of the Candidates and Parties contesting in elections and of the society in general.

20) Parties, Candidates or their supporters shall not include rumor or unsubstantiated statements that have potential to mislead or deceive the reader, listener or viewer.

9. Role of Media Arbitrator

21) Media Arbitrator and Election Observers shall be responsible to ensure that there is level playing field in terms of advertisement and no individual or group draws advantage through propaganda of Royal Patronage, Religion, Religious Personalities or resort to personal attacks or hate speeches.

22) The Media Arbitrator shall also be responsible to receive, investigate and or arbitrate all media-related disputes in the first instance or may report cases to the Election Commission, as provided under the Media Coverage of Election Rules and Regulations 2012.

10. Use of Social Media by the ECB and Election officials

23) The Election Commission shall use Social Media to disseminate election related information to voters but only under its name and authority.

24) An officer of the Election Commission or an officer appointed on election duty shall use their personal blogs, websites or any other Social Media forms only for their personal mail/communication.

11. Code of Conduct

25) A user of Social Media shall subscribe to the Election Code of Conduct in the Election Act and further spelt out in the Media Coverage of Elections Rules, Election Advertising Rules and the Fundamental Principles thereof mandated by it in the interest of providing a truthful, comprehensive, accurate, balanced and fair account of events and fair play on a level playing field.

26) Any violation of the requirements in this policy shall be deemed as an offence under the Election Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2008.

12. Reporting of violations

27) A person can report any violation of the Electoral Laws to the Media Arbitrator appointed by the Election Commission of Bhutan or at the email addresses: ……….. or SMS to Mobile Phone No:

Done under the seal of the Election Commission of the Kingdom of Bhutan on this … Day of the.. Month of the Year 2012 corresponding to the … Day of the … Month of the Water Male Dragon Year in the Bhutanese Calendar.



Annexure 1


Election Coverage (Social Media) Guidelines of Media Houses in Bhutan

These Guidelines will apply to the editorial, audio and video as well as text content of blogs, podcasts, downloads, social networking and all other sites related to the or associated with the ………………. Media House.

A Media House, in case of user generated content, shall not give a misleading account of the weight of opinion. All sites prompting debate on the election will be actively hosted and properly moderated to encourage a wide range of views. All sites must be alert to the danger of distortion caused by organised campaigning and where necessary, put a board into pre-moderation or read-only mode.

Non-news websites will direct users who want to discuss the election in forums, message boards and blog comments, to a site or board which will be moderated before being published.

No online votes attempting to quantify support for a Party, politician or policy issue shall be conducted during the election period.

Journalists and moderators will have to make fine judgments to effectively moderate and differentiate between remarks that constitute robust debate and personal abuse. The general rule of thumb should be if it would not be broadcast on radio or TV, it should not be online.

All Media House sites will list links to all available party sites, provided that it does not give strong grounds for concern that this breaches its editorial policy or the Electoral Laws e.g. defamation, incitement to racial hatred, regionalism etc..

News Online should not link to the sites of individual Candidates. Any speeches which are carried in full should be selected on news value, while bearing in mind that due impartiality requires that an appropriate range of speeches are carried.

It is also to be made clear that conversations via Social Media shall follow the conventions of polite discourse, therefore, comments shall not be posted if it contains:

  • vulgar, obscene or abusive language or images;
  • personal attacks, unsupported accusations, defamation or threats of any kind;
  • offensive terms targeted at groups or persons of a specific ethnicity, race or sexual orientation; or
  • campaign materials promoting or opposing a Party or Candidate in an election for political office.


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Source: Election Commission of Bhutan


This story from Sonam Pem

Sonam Pem has the distinction of being our very first author on Bhutanomics.


  1. Timely. ECB must have a stringent policy in place. Otherwise this social media will turn our election havoc.