It is not all negative. Internet activism has shown that it is a powerful medium to mobilise support for causes like caste- and gender-based violence, citizenship issues, and for making national heroes out of high achievers like Kulman Ghising, Sanduk Ruit or Mahavir Pun.
But, as the organised disinformation campaign against the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) shows, it can also be an effective way to interfere in the political process, whip up populist hyper-nationalism, stifle rational voices and undermine economic progress.
The preponderance of fake news about the Americans planning to build military bases in Nepal has polarised politics and society, even dividing families, friends and colleagues.
With elections around the corner, this phenomenon of demonising political opponents through abuse of social media will have far-reaching consequences for our democracy. If countries with a long history of democracy and free press can have both so easily undermined, we in Nepal need to be on alert against such threats to our hard-won freedoms.
Umesh Shrestha, editor of Nepal Fact Check tells us: “Media literacy has not kept pace with the spread of the Internet. People think the falsehoods on YouTube and TikTok videos are legitimate news, and it forms public opinion.”
Shrestha adds, “This increases responsibility for journalists. Just like when experts and the mass media helped quash rumours about Covid-19.”
Disillusionment against Nepal’s established parties and distrust of politicians is at an all time high. They deserve it, but we cannot let that translate into disenchantment with the democratic process itself.
Nepalis value democracy and harmony. We have pulled back from the brink many times before. It is time for the silent majority to speak up and drown out the fake and phoney in the cybersphere.
Read also: The Alchemy of Angst, Elif Shafak