Facebook’s Litmus Test in Cambodia

A company verdict on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s online incitement could set a precedent for other autocrats.

In January, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen went live on Facebook during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new road and addressed his political opponents. In a veiled reference to a politician convicted of defamation last year, Hun Sen threatened legal action against anyone who said the ruling party had stolen votes. “There are only two options. One is to use legal means and the other is to use a stick,” the prime minister said. “Either you face legal action in court, or I rally [the Cambodian] People’s Party people for a demonstration and beat you up.”

Cambodia will hold national elections on July 23, and the prime minister is expected to extend his 38 years in power. Bombastic rhetoric is typical for Hun Sen, who leads a country of 17 million people and has around 14 million Facebook followers. But the January remarks drew immediate attention from both local and international media, and a few users reported the speech for inciting violence. Meta, which owns Facebook, eventually determined that Hun Sen had violated its community standards. But the moderators left the speech online on the grounds it was “newsworthy,” which Facebook defines as when public interest outweighs threat to public safety or risk of harm.

The speech has become a litmus test for Meta, which has pledged to improve its content moderation and understanding of political contexts in Southeast Asia. Nearly six years ago, Facebook’s algorithms contributed to human rights violations during Myanmar’s genocidal campaign against the Rohingya ethnic minority. The company has since released a corporate human rights policy and claims that it has strengthened language capacity and local relationships in the region. However, critics argue that these efforts are more about bolstering Meta’s reputation than accepting responsibility for the platform’s links to violence in these countries.

In full: https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/06/05/facebook-hun-sen-cambodia-speech-meta-precedent/

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