Many Cambodians first became familiar with Facebook probably in the late 2000s. Back then, people used it simply to connect with friends.
Cambodia began to see the use of Facebook in the political arena mainly after the 2013 general election.
It is not unreasonable to say that Facebook was an important communication tool in propelling the opposition in Cambodia to win an unprecedented 55 seats in 2013. The opposition also used Facebook to mobilize people at an unprecedented level. mass protest in December 2013. The protest had a violent turn in January 2014 with destructive protesters who were later repressed by the government.
For the opposition, the chain of events had brought them one inch closer to overthrowing the Hun Sen regime and seizing power. For the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), events were bringing the country within an inch of civil war.
The CPP finally realized the danger of a color revolution, which was not yet a known concept in Cambodia at the time.
Similar political events can be seen around the world during that period, for example the Arab Spring that occurred between 2011 and 2012 in countries like Tunisia (jasmine revolution), Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Documentaries were made to suggest a leading role for Facebook in launching these color revolutions.
He results of the Arab Spring were nothing more than endless tragedies and crises. What started as peaceful pro-democracy protests turned into civil wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen, displacing or killing millions of people. Tunisia lost stability. Tunisia has had 12 governments in the last 10 years. Some disputed why after 10 years since the Arab Spring, the countries that fought for dignity and democracy are still far from it.
The violence of 2013-2014 taught CPP a great lesson in terms of communication strategy.
The CPP believed that they had allowed Facebook to be monopolized by the opposition and had ignored this space for too long. The CPP was late in terms of using Facebook in politics. It wasn’t until September 20, 2015 that Prime Minister Hun Sen officially launched his Facebook page.
The battle on Facebook escalated in the run-up to the 2018 election, with more CPP supporters becoming more active in increasing their political space on Facebook. The opposition thus lost its monopoly on Facebook.
In general, those who can read Khmer can understand that the political battles on Facebook are fierce.
As the Cambodian government tends to be perceived as authoritarian by the mainstream media, there has been less scrutiny of the ways in which the opposition has been communicating its political messages, which were violent and racist. Their messages are often written in Khmer to hide them from the eyes of the English-language media.
The opposition has embraced this type of political culture since the first election in 1993 by undermining trust in the government by any means possible, including promoting class divisionencouraging civil disobedience and military mutinyand inciting anti-vietnamese and then anti-chinese sentiment among voters.
It took 24 years for Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia to acknowledge on September 27, 2017 that the opposition was using hate speech. In a very indirect and bland tone, then-Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith wrote in your statement that “the same is true of previous rhetoric from other parties that incites hatred.”
In 2023, as Cambodia approaches another election, Facebook experienced a major turning point in Cambodian politics as it shifted its role from being a mere political platform to embracing a role similar to that of a regulator.
This is nothing more than becoming a direct actor in Cambodian politics.
At the end of June, Facebook supervisory board recommended that the platform suspend the account of the Cambodian prime minister for violent language. In response, Hun Sen deleted his Facebook account with more than 14 million followers, and the government expelled Facebook representatives and halted all activities he had with Facebook.
He said in a statement that the government had found irregularities in Facebook services for users in Cambodia, such as creating fake accounts, risking private data, using and collecting private data, spreading fake news, lack of accountability and transparency, and meddling in political affairs from the country.
Subsequently, the members of the supervisory board were declared persona non grata.
When a dozen unelected individuals, completely unknown to the Cambodian public, attempt to censor the Prime Minister’s speech within Cambodian political discourse, it is direct interference by a foreign private company in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.
Facebook has crossed a red line and Cambodian leaders have lost confidence in the platform.
From Facebook’s perspective, there’s probably nothing it can do about its inability to control the sheer number of malicious messages, especially when the platform allows fake identities to exist.
When “likes” and “shares” are the motivational drives for Facebook users, they can create a breeding ground for extremism and populism.
From the government’s perspective, it is extremely problematic when the authorities are unable to enforce the law against those who insult His Majesty the King, make defamatory remarks against the dignity of public persons, or disseminate false border maps to accuse the government of ceding territory to a neighboring country. country.
In fact, Cambodia is not the only case where states struggle to strike a balance between promoting freedom of expression through burgeoning social media and maintaining the rule of law and public order.
In France, Facebook was considered a tool to support violence by the yellow vest in 2018. Facebook’s latest algorithm change favors very popular organic posts, rather than those from media organizations, and yellow vest protests have benefited from the new code. In recent violent protests, President Emmanuel Macron he also blamed social media for fueling the violence.
However, it is perhaps difficult to blame Facebook and other social networks because they are basically not responsible for the security of the state and public order.
When Facebook cannot help the government to enforce the rule of law, governments have no choice but to find their own ways and means, because the government is the elected representative of the people and is accountable to the people in terms of protection. . peace, the rule of law, security and public order.
After all, what is the purpose of authority if the rule of law cannot be enforced? This question touches on the central raison d’être of the state itself.
As the trend continues, it is not hard to see that the Cambodian government has begun to reconsider its vision of Facebook in terms of a political communication tool and to look for better ways to handle social media while trying to uphold the rule of law, national security . and public order.