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Cambodia: Meta refuses to block Hun Sen’s accounts, implicitly encouraging incitement to violence

Yesterday, August 29, Meta announced that it will not suspend the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Cambodia’s former Prime Minister, Hun Sen, rejecting the Oversight Board’s recommendation in July to do so to stem Hun Sen’s “unequivocal statements of intent to commit violence” online. In making this decision, Meta lost an opportunity to send a strong signal against authoritarians who consistently abuse its platforms to incite violence and hate. 

Meta’s decision to not suspend Hun Sen’s accounts sends a dangerous signal that his rights-abusing speech will be tolerated on its platforms. Hun Sen has repeatedly abused both online and offline media to intimidate and threaten political opposition and civil society. The general elections of July have passed, but it does not mean that Hun Sen’s incitement will. Golda Benjamin, Asia Pacific Campaigner at Access Now

In its July decision, the Oversight Board had recommended that Meta “immediately suspend” Hun Sen’s Facebook and Instagram accounts for six months on the basis of Meta’s protocol on restricting accounts of public figures during periods of civil unrest. It further recommended that Meta clarify the policy to include “contexts in which citizens are under continuing threat of retaliatory violence from their governments,” and to apply it “where political expression is pre-emptively suppressed or responded to with violence or threats of violence from the state.” Today, Meta said that suspending Hun Sen’s accounts “would not be consistent” with its policies and that “this protocol is not meant for use in this type of context and existing policies against threats of violence are in place.”

Soon after Meta refused to suspend Hun Sen’s accounts, the Cambodian government came out to congratulate the company. To ensure its decision is not an implicit acceptance of the regime’s aggression online, Meta must invest significantly in the staff and resources needed to ensure immediate and effective action against any future abuse of its platforms by Hun Sen. This must include active engagement with civil society, journalists, lawyers, and other key stakeholders working on human rights and social justice in Cambodia. Dhevy Sivaprakasam, Senior Policy Counsel at Access Now

Immediately after the Oversight Board released its decision, the Cambodian government retaliated by declaring members of the Oversight Board as “persona non grata.” Hun Sen has also returned to Facebook, after leaving the platform in protest – signifying the outsized role Facebook plays in public and political communications within Cambodia. Following yesterday’s announcement, the government responded to “accept and congratulate Meta,” stating that the “decision confirms the integrity of the information and content” of Hun Sen’s accounts. 

Access Now supports account suspension as a last-resort measure and a necessary, legal, and proportionate response when people’s history on the platform clearly shows consistent incitement to violence and hatred.