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Cambodian Prime Minister’s Facebook 'Likes' Questioned

A person uses a smartphone to look at the Facebook page of Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, during breakfast at a restaurant in central Phnom Penh. A recent newspaper report questioned whether the prime minister bought "likes" for his page.
Cambodian Prime Minister's Facebook Popularity Questioned
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Cambodia's ruling party spokesman has dismissed a report that the Prime Minister inflated the number of "likes" on his Facebook page.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, of the Cambodian People’s Party, recently announced he had reached 3 million “likes” on the social media site. He joked that his popularity made him "the Facebook Prime Minister."

He joined Facebook six months ago. Hun Sen appeared to have overtaken opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s 2.2 million likes. Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, has been on Facebook for at least five years.

Wednesday, a report released from The Phnom Penh Post newspaper said that only about 20 percent of Hun Sen's recently added fans were Cambodia-based users. The report noted numbers from the media analytics company

This screenshot of social media tracking site shows the largest 10 Facebook pages in Cambodia.
This screenshot of social media tracking site shows the largest 10 Facebook pages in Cambodia.

Many of the “likes” came from countries whose citizens would have little reason to support Cambodia’s long-time ruler. The report also said a great number of likes posted in the past 30 days came from India, the Philippines, Burma, Indonesia, Turkey and Mexico.

The report raised the question that the prime minister might have been buying his popularity on the site.

Chok Sopheap is executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. She said she was "surprised" by the report, adding that it raises questions about the transparency of Facebook’s "likes" function. Cambodian politicians have used Facebook “likes” to compete for popularity.

She added that a politician’s popularity should not be judged by social media activity alone, but by their effectiveness as public officials.

"The real concern is that the users themselves have to understand that the number of likes they gain on Facebook does not [accurately] reflect their popularity or [whether] there’s full support for them," she said.

Nget Moses is head of the Internet technology department at Phnom Penh-based CENTRAL, an online rights advocacy group. He explained that Facebook users could pay money to advertise their Facebook posts or page, a mechanism known as "boosting."

"We cannot use money to buy likes," he told VOA Khmer. "However, what we can do is pay money to boost our page or posts in order to reach a wider audience, as well as select where the page or the posts can be most seen.”

The expert suggested that the administrators of the Prime Minister’s Facebook Page could release reports on the page.

Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, dismissed the report. He said the prime minister had no reason to inflate his online popularity. He added that it was mostly people within the nation.

Hun Sen has been in power for more than 30 years. He recently announced that Cambodians can send messages directly to his Facebook page in order to raise concerns and issues.

He also urged officials to create their own Facebook pages along with accounts for government institutions.

Political observers said Hun Sen is hoping that he can use Facebook to gain popularity. Important local, commune elections take place in 2017 and national elections are to be held the following year.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Neou Vannarin in Phnom Penh reported this story for Mario Ritter adapted the story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

inflate v. to say something is larger or more important than it actually is

boost v. to increase the amount of something

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