Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, is facing pressure to suspend Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen from the social media platform for six months. The oversight board, which operates independently but is funded by Meta, stated that Hun Sen violated Facebook’s rules against violent threats with a video he posted in January. The board criticized Meta for not removing the video initially. In response, Meta agreed to take down the video but said it would review the board’s recommendation regarding the suspension.
If the suspension were to occur, it would silence Hun Sen’s Facebook page less than a month before an upcoming election in Cambodia. The opposition and rights groups have accused the election of being a sham, but the government has dismissed these allegations. Late on Thursday, Hun Sen’s Facebook account appeared offline, although Meta confirmed that it had neither suspended nor removed his account. The Cambodian government has not provided an immediate comment on the case.
This decision by the oversight board is part of a series of rebukes against Facebook’s handling of controversial statements by political leaders and posts inciting violence during elections. Facebook’s election integrity efforts have been scrutinized as the United States prepares for its presidential elections next year. The oversight board previously supported Facebook’s banishment of former US President Donald Trump but criticized the indefinite nature of his suspension, calling for better preparation in handling volatile political situations.
The Cambodian case arose after several users reported a video in which Hun Sen threatened physically harm those who accused his Cambodian People’s Party of vote-buying in a 2022 local election. Initially, Facebook deemed the video to violate its rules but allowed it to remain due to the exemption of “newsworthiness,” citing the public’s interest in hearing warnings of violence by their government. However, the oversight board determined that the video’s harms outweighed its news value.
The Cambodian government has denied targeting the opposition and maintains that those subjected to legal action are lawbreakers. Human Rights Watch, represented by Deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, welcomed the oversight board’s decision, stating that Hun Sen had been called out for inciting violence. According to Robertson, this clash between a dictator and a tech giant over human rights issues is long overdue. The oversight board’s recent statement also expressed concerns about the effectiveness of Meta’s election efforts in light of their handling of calls for violence after the 2022 Brazilian election.