Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has quit Facebook and threatened to ban the social media platform in his country a day after a quasi-independent review board recommended his account be suspended for six months.
It comes after Hun Sen called for violence against political opponents in a video in January which was viewed 600,000 times.
Pulling the plug on Facebook for millions of Cambodians could be the final stage in a lightning estrangement 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. He recently livestreamed his speeches, which can last for hours.
Hun Sen on Wednesday (June 28) suddenly announced he will no longer upload to Facebook and will instead get his message across via Telegram, a messaging app which also has a blogging tool called “channels”.
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Cambodia’s leader said he was making the switch because Telegram is more effective and makes it easier to communicate when he is traveling to countries which 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.
The review board said Hun HunSen had used language 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 Facebook’s parent company Meta, issued its non-binding recommendation in a 26-page report.
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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.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: “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.”
Robertson added that Facebook had “dared” to hold Hun Sen accountable to its 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.
Hun Sen also alleged 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 was 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”.
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