One of our goals at Mekong Research is to study the trends in science and technology that are guiding regional changes in education and training, of students and mid-career professionals. With this in mind, we organized #IdeasCamp on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at Emerald Hub BKK3 Phnom Penh, in collaboration with Preetam Rai, who is an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), currently running multiple peer learning projects across Asia. #IdeasCamp is an unconference-style event where attendees are encouraged to actively participate by asking questions relevant to the ongoing discussion, or by giving brief talks pertinent to the theme.
Our first speaker was Ratana Sopha, who is a Manager for HIV Prevention and Innovations with KHANA. A significant part of his role is his involvement in curating social media strategies for conducting outreach targeted at young and vulnerable individuals. In this context, his talk featured the highly topical issue of "fake news", a form of yellow journalism that involves the deliberate use of disparate media channels to propagate misinformation or hoaxes. Ratana observed that the problem of "fake news" is now pervasive in Cambodia mainly because of the increase in the use of mobile Internet and social media among a large number of people, especially the young. He also discussed methods by which social media users may summarily identify information of dubious quality, and caution their friends and other acquaintances. He emphasized that the most important part we can play in this is through talking to friends and family, and making known to them the means by which they can arm themselves against propaganda emanating from sources of information that are unreliable, unverifiable and of dubious quality. Further discussion among participants led to various interesting conversations during and after the event, including the fundamental human right of "freedom of speech", and the perceived need, in some quarters, for the State to establish certain standards, and to act in order to impede the flow of "fake news", which would then inevitably lead to conflict between the two ideas.
Our second speaker, Catherine V. Harry, the country's foremost video-blogger, and also a prominent voice on sex education, talked to #IdeasCamp participants on her transition from being a blogger (A Dose of Cath) to a video-blogger. On her journey as a vBlogger through the past year, Cathy has stacked hundreds of thousands of views for her posts from users living in Cambodia and abroad. Speaking in lucid Khmer (with English subtitles), Cathy confidently wades through the most delicate of subjects concerning sex and sexual health, topics that have been long considered taboo for public consumption in Cambodia's relatively conservative society. Her meticulous research skills on display, each of Cath's posts is produced thoughtfully, with a keen sense of discernment of her audience. She says that, as regional telecoms infrastructure improves, consequently boosting network speeds (even as user attention spans are hovering at their lowest points), video blogs provide an effective medium of communication and outreach to the desired target group and conducting outreach. Though her outspokenness makes her an occasional target of online hate, the warm appreciation she elicits from her followers more than compensates for the unsavoury behaviour of some.
We would like to thank everyone who attended and participated actively in the discussions, and specially Trieu and Ha who joined us all the way from Ho Chi Minh City. We will be back with more interesting and exciting events in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!