Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen had been a huge Facebook fan. Now he's threatening to ban it

FILE - Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends the 42nd ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, on May 10, 2023. Cambodias long-serving, tough-talking leader, Hun Sen, says he is considering banning Facebook in his country, largely because he is fed up with the abuse he receives on it from his political foes abroad. On Wednesday, June 28, he suddenly announced he will no longer upload to Facebook and will instead depend on Telegram to get his message across. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, Pool, File) (Achmad Ibrahim, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PHNOM PENH – Cambodia’s long-serving, tough-talking leader, Hun Sen, on Friday said he is considering banning Facebook in his country, largely because he is fed up with the abuse he receives on it from his political enemies abroad.

Pulling the plug on Facebook for millions of Cambodian users would be the last stage in a lightning estrangement this past week between the 70-year-old prime minister and the social media platform. He had been an enthusiastic user, posting family snapshots alongside dire warnings to his foes, and recently livestreaming his many, sometimes hours-long speeches.

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On Wednesday, he suddenly announced he will no longer upload to Facebook and will instead use Telegram to get his message across. Telegram is a popular messaging app that also has a blogging tool called “channels.”

Hun Sen said he was making the switch because Telegram is more effective and makes it easier to communicate when he is traveling to countries that ban Facebook use — such as China, his government’s top international ally. He said that although he would stop posting new material, he would keep his Facebook page.

His announcement came just a day before a quasi-independent review board on Thursday recommended that Hun Sen’s Facebook and Instagram accounts be suspended for six months for using language that it judged could incite violence in a video of a January speech in which he decried opposition politicians who accused his ruling party of stealing votes.

The board said it reached its recommendation due in part to “Hun Sen’s history of committing human rights violations and intimidating political opponents, as well as his strategic use of social media to amplify such threats.”

The Oversight Board, established three years ago by Meta, Facebook’s parent company, issued its nonbinding recommendation in a 26-page report. Separately, it overturned a ruling by Facebook’s moderators to allow the video, originally broadcast live, to stay online. The ruling to remove the video is binding on Facebook.

“Cambodia PM Hun Sen is finally being called out for using social media to incite violence against his opponents, and he apparently doesn’t like it one bit,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, commented in an emailed statement.

Facebook, Robertson added, “dared to hold him accountable to their community standards.”

Within hours of the board announcing its findings, Hun Sen’s Facebook page was offline, but not at Facebook’s initiative.

Hun Sen on Friday explained on his new favored social network, the Telegram app, that he had closed his account, and threatened to have Facebook banned in Cambodia if it kept carrying messages from his political opponents in exile that he considers unfair.

He said in a live video that he would order a temporary or even a permanent ban if his foes kept attacking him on Facebook, but he is reluctant to do so because such a move would affect all Cambodian Facebook users, not just his 14 million followers.

He also complained that Facebook had acted unfairly, as it has never taken punitive action against his opponents despite them sometimes using extreme language to attack him.

Facebook’s response to the Oversight Board’s report, issued Thursday night, had been a brief statement welcoming its findings and saying it would comply with decision to remove Hun Sen’s January speech.

It added that it will review the board’s recommendations, including the suspension of Hun Sen’s accounts. Guidelines call for a public response to recommendations within 60 days — though if the account remains deleted, that point might be moot.

Two levels of Facebook moderators had declined to recommend action against Hun Sen, judging first that he did not violate Meta’s community standard guidelines against violence and incitement.

They prohibit “threats that could lead to death” and “threats that lead to serious injury,” including “statements of intent to commit violence.”

On appeal, a more senior set of moderators ruled that despite the comments’ provocative nature, Hun Sen’s position as a national leader made his remarks newsworthy and therefore not subject to punishment.

Three outside users appealed to the board to review the moderators’ rulings, as did Meta itself.

Social media critics have repeatedly raised concerns about political leaders using social media in a manner that could inflame and trigger violence in such countries as India and Myanmar. Former U.S. President Donald Trump was temporarily suspended from Facebook because of such concerns.


Peck reported from Bangkok. AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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