There was a time until recently when we wrote editorials in this space about how the global digital divide was mirrored within Nepal. Just like the haves and have-nots, we said Nepal had the ‘knows’ and ‘know-nots’, because access to the internet here was so skewed.

How fast things have changed. Till 2012, we were reporting that there were 1.4 million Nepalis on  Facebook. Today the figure is nearing 8.5 million. The number of Twitter users is much lower, but it has a following among the intelligentsia, media and political influencers, which magnifies its impact. 

In April, Nepali Times printed the results of a Sharecast Initiative survey that showed:

  • 96% of Nepali households own a mobile
  • 90% of individuals own a mobile
  • Half the mobile users had smartphones
  • 18% used laptops, desktops or tablets at home
  • Among the 35% who used the internet, 98% said they use mobile phones to get online
  • 75% used mobile data to access the internet.

Read also:

So, you want to quit Facebook?, Reeti KC

Nepal’s new digital landscape, Sonia Awale

As our review of the survey in this edition (page 15) shows, the shift of eyeballs to digital media is going to have a profound impact on the way Nepalis communicate with each other, the way Nepal is governed and how  Nepali society functions.

While the legacy press is still strong and influential, and people do not fully trust information on the Net, the window for print is narrowing. As elsewhere, it is inevitable that the online editions of the mainstream press, digital news portals and YouTube channels are going to be the main sources of news. Print media will have to re-invent its revenue model, or perish. 

Internet viewing patterns in Nepal and other parts of the region show increasing dominance of entertainment content. Facebook and social media addiction is becoming a problem, reducing the attention span of readers, exposing them to click bait, fake news and rumours.   

As the recent case involving Rabi Lamichhane — as well as protests against heritage destruction, violence against women and corruption — shows, social media content is now driving mainstream media content, setting the agenda for coverage and priority accorded to events, personalities and issues.

Not all of this is improper, damaging or dangerous. The internet has democratised information flow, levelled the playing field, and in many cases turned citizens into actors and content providers themselves. The cybersphere has become the new Nepali public sphere, chautari and our own global village, where the medium is the message.

Read also: 

Digital Detox, Nepali Times

Nepalis are drifting to digital media, Madhu Acharya and Bhumiraj Chapagain

People like Kulman Ghising of the Nepal Electricity Authority, Vijay Lama of Nepal Airlines, and Sanduk Ruit of Tilganga have been propelled to national stardom through social media magnification. They are seen by the public at large as direct antitheses of greedy and corrupt politicians.

No wonder, then, that the greedy and corrupt feel threatened by these personalities. In the battle between populism and popularity, these new heroes expose the hopeless inadequacies of political figures because of their integrity and selfless devotion to public welfare. When they become a political threat, we have seen backlash from the rulers.

The Nepali Net is affecting politics because the young middle-class is now wired. Half of Nepal’s population is under 21, and this networked youth bulge will have huge political implications in the next general election in 2022.

Where the new voters get their information, how they get it and what kind of information it is, will determine who rules Nepal and how. If the information is correct and credible, exposes wrongdoing, is fair to all concerned, and lets voters make up their own minds, the New Media will strengthen Nepal’s fragile democracy.

But if in the next three years, fake news goes viral, bot armies are deployed, false social media accounts target individuals to destroy their credibility, and troll factories are created to widen and exploit religion, sectarian, caste and ethnic fault lines, then Nepal is headed for disaster.

For now, social media is a free-for-all. It is still dominated by the personal, but is increasingly being used as a political platform by citizens to air their views. It is in this dynamic, interactive and instantaneous public cybersphere that opinions are increasingly being made and spread.

The Internet is a double-edged sword: it can mobilise pro-democracy protests and be a marketplace of ideas, but it can also radicalise society with algorithm-driven echo chambers, hate speech and corrosive dialogue.

As with all media there are the good, the bad and the ugly. At a time when the mainstream press is co-opted, coerced or bought off by political brokers, social media still holds out the hope of keeping the democratic space open.

Fortunately most Nepalis, wired or otherwise, value peace and harmony. This silent majority must be silent no more, and speak out on the social web to drown out the fake and phoney.

Read also:

Nepal's changing media landscape, Sharecast Initiative

New news, Editorial

10 years ago this week

This excerpt from the front page story in Nepali Times #467 of 4-12 September 2019 shows that however much things change in Nepal, they stay the same:

'There is no other way to write the new Constitution, protect the peace process and reduce foreign interference than for the political leadership to work together. Yet they can’t bring themselves to do it.

Individually, they all give speeches saying there is no alternative to consensus politics. But their actions say just the opposite. Even when antagonistic parties get together, like the NC and the Maoists, it is for selfish and partisan reasons.

 Threatening “to capture state power through a people’s rebellion” and a bloodbath will not take the process forward. Openly moving around with guns, refusing to rehabilitate those rejected in the cantonments, continuing to obstruct Parliament, will not help.'