postheadericon TECH TALK: The New Voice in Nepal, Social Media 2011

With well over a billion Facebook groups now existing on the planet, and growing at a rate that doubles every year, it’s no wonder that Facebook (along with other like social media sites) is fast becoming the new voice of youth in the world of politics and awareness-raising.

Out of those 1 billion-odd groups, it’s estimated that over 1 million of those are related to Nepal, and these are discussions mostly created by young Nepalese exploring topics ranging from “B-Boying” to “I ain’t no Indian, not a Mexican or Chinese…I‘m a NEPALI...BIOTCH!!!” and everything in-between. In other words, there is a Nepali group for just about anything Nepali you can think of, from dhal bhat to Pol Pot.

And as far as Twitter goes, the numbers are just as staggering: with an estimated Twitter penetration of 8% or more into the total Nepali population, and with Nepal and neighbors India and China contributing to world-wide tweet traffic in the billions per year.

Add that to the number of Nepali bloggers online, and comparing social media site popularity over traditional media outlets online, it’s clear that the majority of youth in Nepal are living in Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, etc. and have moved away from old-school media sites like the BBC, Himalayan Times, Khabar, and yes, even this media outlet, Republica.

This of course is no surprise to media watchers, as Nepal does not buck any worldwide trends in this regard, and as a young country stats-wise, it just makes sense that most folks under the age of 35 are involved in a big way with social media, either voicing opinions, venting, or organizing for the greater good.

We have seen what youth have used social media-wise during the Arab Spring od 2011, and some of us can even remember as far back as 2006, when the Nepali blogosphere became alive and filled an information vacuum created by the ideologically encamped media outlets of the country. One of the most established of such blogs, United We Blog!, sums up this transition on their home page quite succinctly:

“United We Blog! was born because we wanted to share something we can’t share in newspapers!”

So a new voice was born, outside of the established vehicles of “letters to the editor” and in other guest contributions to established and controlled journalistic outlets. All well and good, but this birthing is not without criticism and animosity by the powers that be...

The GoN reacted with the Electronic Transaction Act 2008, which has been used on occasion to squelch opposing utterings from Nepali youth. The exact wording of the Act that applies is as follows:

"If any person publishes or displays any material in the electronic media including computer, internet which are prohibited to publish or display by the prevailing law or which may be contrary to the public morality or decent behaviour or any types of materials which may spread hate or jealousy against anyone or which may jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities shall be liable to the punishment with the fine not exceeding One Hundred Thousand Rupees or with the imprisonment not exceeding five years or with both."

That, in conjunction with various criminal acts and constitutional amendments, and working with NTA-amended licenses to ISPs, has combined to put limits on what Nepal’s youth can say and post online. All well and good, as long as not abused - as all civil societies need boundaries in this regard, no?

It’s obvious after reading the rules and regulations, that we in Nepal do lean liberal in regards to the curtailing of free online speech, and we can count our lucky stars that we do not have the authoritarian online rule of our nearest neighbor, China. As of date, the youth of Nepal can say what they want, where they want, without fear of reprisals within the limits of Nepal’s liberal laws in 2011.

For example, it’s hard to imagine anything happening today like what what happened during 2004/5, when then King Gyanendra said he was exercising censorship for 'peace and democracy'. Yet this is not to say that the new online voice of Nepal is not without problems, or in need of a good cleanup. For example, any visit to a few Nepali YouTube videos will uncover hate speech and other forms of online obscenities that would make your didi blush.

To help in this regard, the Bloggers Association of Nepal (BLOGAN) has put together a worthwhile initiative for anyone posting online: A Code of Ethics for Bloggers, which was first signed by members of BLOGAN and the Online Journalists of Nepal (OJA) in July of this year. Modeled after Tim O’Reilly’s Code of Conduct, this set of guidelines is a must read for anyone sharing online.

By following this code, we can all contribute to the collective in a meaningful and civil way, even if some of the tenants may seem trivial, self-evident, or even restrictive. In other words, with new freedom comes new responsibility, and I for one, thank BLOGAN and the OJA for pointing this out in their newly formulated Code of Ethics; so what say you?

Published today in myrepublica.com, photo credit: unknown, please write me with ownership info.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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