violence in Cambodia

Online platforms must reject Cambodia prime minister’s incitement to violence

Update: July 4, 2023 — The Cambodian government has declared the members of Meta’s Oversight Board as “persona non grata,” alleging that the Board’s decision “obstructs the freedom of the press (…) and the right to receive credible news from a leader whom they support and admire.” This defiant response further reinforces the importance of the Board’s decision in pushing back against and holding the Cambodian government to account.

Last week, Meta’s Oversight Board directed that the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Cambodia’s longest serving prime minister, Hun Sen, be immediately suspended, deeming that he had made “unequivocal statements of intent to commit violence against his political opponents.” Access Now welcomes Hun Sen’s expulsion from the Meta-owned channels, overturning earlier decisions by Meta staff allowing him to continue on their services. Other online platforms must remain alert to similar incendiary behavior from the Cambodian prime minister, and take steps to prevent further spread of his unacceptable behavior across the internet. 

Hun Sen’s administration has a history of pressuring online platforms and telecommunications providers to allow him to intimidate and incite violence against members of the political opposition, civil society, journalists, and human rights defenders. Following the Board’s decision, Hun Sen left Facebook of his own volition, threatening to block the platform in Cambodia and to prevent exiled political opposition members from using it. Access Now is concerned that Hun Sen will simply relocate his violent and hateful rhetoric to other platforms, such as Telegram and TikTok. Ahead of elections in Cambodia on July 23, he has been publicly urging his followers to move to these platforms. 

With the elections approaching, it is likely that Hun Sen will simply turn to platforms with weaker content moderation practices to intimidate and incite violence against his political opponents. Telegram and TikTok must immediately strengthen their content moderation practices and embed human rights safeguards within their content policies, to prevent their platforms from being abused to facilitate violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of the person, and the freedoms of expression and association. Golda Benjamin, Asia-Pacific Campaigner at Access Now

Both TikTok and Telegram prohibit violence and incitement to violence within their Terms of Service and Community Guidelines. However, they have responded slowly and inadequately to past reports of abuse. In Myanmar, for example, people deemed to be opposing the junta, including women, are regularly doxxed on pro-military Telegram channels, leading to offline harms, including bounty killings – yet the company has been slow to react. TikTok has also failed to adequately moderate content that incites violence, hostility, and discrimination in Myanmar, but also in other countries where hate speech and incitement have proliferated.

Telegram and TikTok have a history of reacting slowly and ineffectively in the face of illegal or hateful content. They must mitigate previous shortcomings by immediately investing sufficient resources into their Cambodian operations. Should they fail to do so, they will be complicit in facilitating human rights violations in Cambodia. Dhevy Sivaprakasam, Senior Policy Counsel at Access Now

Access Now also urges TikTok and Telegram to meaningfully and continuously engage with Cambodian, as well as international, civil society, journalists, opposition politicians, and human rights defenders. It is essential for online platforms to take appropriate, responsive, and effective preventive and reactive measures against content inciting violence, and to ensure anyone affected by such content has access to remedy.