Nepali Times
Digital multiply


BRIDGING THE DIVIDE: Sunita Rai and Amrita Rai of Deusa, Solu use internet for work and entertainment.
There are many people who have strong opinions on the present identity debate but they won't speak up because it is not compatible with their professional affiliation.
Chandan Sapkota
Amidst hype about the recent surge in social media use in Nepal, there is legitimate scepticism about its role in a country where the literacy rate is barely 65 per cent.

Can the Internet ever be the panacea that it is made out to be given the huge digital divide? After all, it is mainly urban, middle-class Nepalis who are wired, and most of those live inside Kathmandu's Ring Road.

But everything is changing so fast that the impact of social media and the Internet needs to be re-addressed. Technology has played a part in boosting the Internet penetration rate to over 15 per cent. The other factor is the large diaspora population, especially gulf migrants which uses it for news as well as to communicate with families back home.

There are now over 1.45 million Facebook users in Nepal and although this is less than five per cent of the country's population, it is still greater than the readership of all major daily newspapers in Nepal combined.

Even in social media, ultimately content is king. People will follow you as long as you can maintain your credibility.
Prateek Pradhan
There are also significant number of Nepalis who throng to blogs, internet fora, online news portals, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter to keep tabs on national issues, usually with sharp, no-holds-barred opinions.

Together, this online community of social media users makes up Nepal's new public sphere which used to be limited to a small section of newspaper readers and writers. Social media accords its users much more power to participate in the production of information, it is interactive, immediate and has multimedia content.

As participants of a Himalmedia Social Media Roundtable this week noted, it is no longer possible to ignore the power of social media and its influence on forming and shaping public opinion. And this influence will only grow in the years to come.

"Social media rose to prominence once it made a transition from the personal to the political," explained Santosh Sigdel, a human rights lawyer, "many Nepalis are using Facebook and Twitter to express and discuss political opinions, not just to post family pictures."

However, Nepal's established media houses continue to treat online as an after-thought because advertisers still prefer hardcopy. This is also reflected in the greater importance journalists accord to hardcopy deadlines.

Reporters don't feel motivated to write for online. After all media houses pay us as print reporters not online journalists.
Binita Dahal

"My first concern when uploading exclusive news online is how much to reveal so that a rival paper won't use it in tomorrow's edition," says Binita Dahal, a political reporter with Nagarik.

Increasingly, as elsewhere, Nepalis are first hearing of an event on Facebook or Twitter. The Maoist split made it to Twitter long before it was on news portals, or breaking news on tv. And by tomorrow morning's hardcopy editions, it was old hat. Timelines of tech-savvy reporters routinely carry scoops that do not even make it to the mainstream press.

The run up to the constitution deadline saw a spike in postings, and the Internet became a virtual battleground as netizens engaged in debates on federalism based on identity.

Economic researcher and analyst, Chandan Sapkota, says that comments are determined by the surnames or ethnic background of the writer rather than by the issues being addressed. "There is a clear clustering of people on the basis of ideological leanings and people are being increasingly intolerant and radicalised."

Aakar Anil, a blogger and tech enthusiast makes a similar observation. "You are not judged on the basis of your arguments but on your background," he says, adding that many Nepalis with moderate views therefore prefer to remain silent.

Often it becomes difficult to deal with targeted attacks by groups and lobbies with political and ideological leanings. The result is that few people with extreme opinions, and those who shout the loudest, dominate the discourse and drown out saner voices.

What the Internet has done in Nepal, as elsewhere, is compartmentalise views and fragment society. In its ugliest form, this manifests itself as hate pages and racist sites, crude photo-shopped images of politicians and anonymous incendiary incitement to violence in the unmoderated feedback sections of the online press.

There have been calls for regulation, but the lines between regulation and censorship are blurred. Says Sigdel: "There is a fine line between free speech and hate speech. Who is to make that distinction?"

Arjun Dhakal, coordinator of the popular, intellectual and academic listserv, NNSD, says even there debates often have a way of getting boiled down to their lowest denominator. He tries to regulate that by moderating posts, but inevitably as the discourse gets more polarised, postings on NNSD have also become vituperative and personalised.

Kiran Nepal, editor of says that things are not as bad as they look. "I don't think there is a need to be alarmed simply on the basis of things being said on the Net. People have at least found a way to let off steam."

Prateek Pradhan, editor of the business daily Karobar, disagrees and says Internet renders geographic boundaries irrelevant, and provocative postings from the Nepali diaspora can still incite street violence back home.

What is the solution? Chandan Sapkota says the most effective way is for the silent majority of people with moderate views not to be silent anymore, and counter the extreme rhetoric.

Aakar Anil says leaders should take more control and engage with the social media instead of complaining about the criticism they receive on Facebook.

"Gagan Thapa has more than 50,000 likes on Facebook," he says, "he can mobilise this mass for great causes if he tries." There are going to be some 3.5 million newly eligible voters in the coming election which is also the group that uses social media the most.!/rubeenaa

Read also:

Antisocial media

1. Indra Dhoj Kshetri
Nice write-up. Social Media is there and is going to remain for long with a lot of impact more than what Television did in 1970s -2000. Social Media are the technologies of freedom. Therefore, people are quick to embrace them. As with any new technologies, people are experimenting social media for different purposes and in many different ways. A small number has also used it to fuel ethnic tension as well as making hate speech through these platforms. But we should not be much worried as it will gradually start self regulating for the matter of credibility and sustainability.

2. Kumarpaudel
A nice read. 
Social media is easy tool for positive action, also, cheap weapon for ill-minded people. Current ethnic debates in facebook, in particular are serious, somebody from diaspora with graphic skill designs and posts, others follow and share.. even a hoax could burn down a community.. 
People who post themselves ( will have already let-out the hate-feelings from them, won't participate in physical violence). But, others who just swallow everything posted as truth could incite violence

3. who cares
Chandan Sapkota :

what exactly is the moderate view?

is supporting or having soft spot for terrorist, terrorism, corrupt, anti nation, murderer, rapist, liar and those, "who support, promote, spread propaganda in support of those" etc etc a moderate view?

individuals like you have been spreading propaganda that opposing, hitting back to terrorist and other evils is being bias, radical etc. today,

 nepal has become safe heaven for terrorists, agents, corrupts, crooks, criminals....

bahuns like you have misinterpreted "lying" as an skill. you have sold agent prachande's lying as a political skill to idiot crowd. 

you support individuals with moderate views, and cause of people like you i have begun to head moderates. they are the root cause of continuation of all the problems we have today. 

4. the blame if accepted collectively can give a resolution
Likes of Prateek Pradhan says

Prateek Pradhan, editor of the business daily Karobar, disagrees and says Internet renders geographic boundaries irrelevant, and provocative postings from the Nepali diaspora can still incite street violence back home.

There is a president of NEFIN and long served activist of so called democratic party of nepal UML, Mr. Sherpa, who publicly announced to cut the tongues of those who are against ethnicity based federal system BACK HOME and the press where he serves has kept mum over the issue and now he came to blame those from diaspora who are more into ethnic so often with hate mongering speeches in their individual capacities in social media like twitter or facebook? At least we can complain the responsible authority of facebook or twitter immediately for inciting violence, who we protest when YOU PEOPLE publish "heroic" news of mr. sherpa and the goons of nepali political parties and organizations without detesting it?

Why don't you realize that it is BACK HOME, where there is a infuriated situation called the social problem, it is BACK HOME where you people are enmeshed in your kind of ignorance, it is BACK HOME where you turn the ugly into the most beautiful and viceverse and still you blame foreigners and now diaspora community? Have guts to finger out those who incite violence one by one( you can start from the Maoists who introduced the culture of violence) and refrain from putting the blame into the whole community. Aaah one thing as how the paper media works -above all so called mainstream media- in Nepal, for sure, they are condemned to die away, bloody stuffs of ignorance and partisan gang of Nepal.

5. anita khadka
the commentators on this page display the exact hooligan behaviors that social media is so known for. in nepal you don't criticise a person's view, you directly attack their last names without even reading what they have to say. 

i know censorship is a double edged sword, but people like mr who cares and #4 don't deserve to be heard. they spread too much hate and negativity sitting behind their computers. 

6. who cares
miss anita khadka,

actually you are criticizing your own kind.

the individuals you hate are just like you, not like me or #4, 

you are attacking individual, not what they say. 

on the above, you attacked two of us instead of our views. read carefully our above posts, we have written a few paragraphs in trying to describe why we have problem with those with whom we have problem. 

unlike you, where you just attacked me and 4.

i too have read comments, on internet, of those who either release poison or blindly support some individuals withing mentioning any substance. 

i too dont like them, but i am not like them, they are like you, who wants to end my right of express freely. 

have you ever noticed, those who call other bias, those who complain that other are not fair are the ones who themselves are bias like maoist and their pets. 

individuals like you and them are just spreading propaganda cause you are scared of individuals like me, cause i can destroy individuals like you. 

bahuns in nc, uml get into their shell when individuals like you attack them. but too bad, i am no bahun. 

7. Bikas Gurung
Gagan Thapa use your likes in FB if you want to get anywhere or get anything done. We live in the lightining speed of Information age. President Obama uses the Internet, FB, Twitter, Text, Ipad, Blackberry, you name it, every advantage he can get. The current batch of old white bearded or white hair politicians will not be able to get it done. Yes, Social Media can and should play a big role in future politics as well as future of Nepal.  

8. we care

3. who cares

6. who cares

You are a w**** of hate speech. You are addressing to others here by their cast ... if you got the guts and if you are not just a w**** come up with your real identity.

9. someone cares

to .... Who Cares:

You who hides under the pseudonym, is definitely not the moderate view.

All u do is selectively pick & choose from articles, where it suits your extreme view. More often than not I have found nothing interesting and/or anything persuasive in your commentary; other than your utter racial/ethnic bias towards the bahun community and the same old, same old about the Maoists. You are worse off than the bahuns/maoists you claim to have a disdain for.

Do a little introspection and see where you can contribute positively; other than your redundant hate speech.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)