Dhaka, Bangladesh
Cambodia Facebook Feud

Off the track

Cambodia Facebook Feud

Ben Paviour

Lawyers for exiled Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy have filed legal action against Facebook, in a case that highlights how the quest for “likes” has gripped the small Southeast Asian country’s leading politicians. The petition in US federal courts asks the social media giant to disclose information related to the popularity of the Facebook page of Sam Rainsy’s rival, Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose Facebook page ranked third in global engagement among world leaders, according to public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. The petition accuses Hun Sen of using state money to buy Facebook ads and says he levelled death threats against Rainsy in violation of the platform’s policies, including a speech posted to his page last week vowing to attack opposition members with rocket launchers. “Facebook should act to prevent its platform being manipulated to help prop up dictators,” said Rainsy’s lawyer, Richard Rogers, a partner in the London and Paris-based firm Global Diligence. Rainsy, who has lived in Paris since November 2015 in the face of a slew of court cases, accuses Hun Sen of purchasing support in countries such as India and the Philippines, where the prime minister’s page is popular and which are home to “click farms” that produce fake followers for social media accounts. Illegitimate likes often come from fake accounts or from real users who are paid for liking the page, according to Facebook. Cambodian courts found Rainsy guilty of defamation in November 2016 after he accused officials of creating fake accounts to support Hun Sen’s page. The filing in Northern District of California federal court asks Facebook to disclose information about the authenticity of Hun Sen’s likes, as well as communications he may have had with associates on the platform on a variety of topics, including the July killing of political commentator Kem Ley. The information would clear Rainsy’s name in a number of Cambodian court cases and change Cambodian voters’ perception of Hun Sen before July’s national elections, Mr Rogers said. “If you’re going to vote for the winner, [Facebook] is one of the ways to discern who is the winner,” Mr Rogers said. Hun Sen’s current, allegedly fraudulent Facebook popularity “shows that he’s still liked even though he commits all of these human rights abuses”, he added.

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