February 25, 2024

The oversight board for Facebook’s parent company Meta Platforms on Thursday said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen should be suspended from the social media site for six months for posting a video violating rules against violent threats.

The board, which is funded by Meta but operates independently, said the company had been wrong not to remove the video after it was published in January.

Meta, in a written statement, agreed to take down the video but said it would respond to the board’s recommendation to suspend Hun Sen after a review.

Any suspension would silence the prime minister’s Facebook page less than a month before an election in Cambodia. Opposition and rights groups have said the poll will be a sham – accusations dismissed by the government.

Hun Sen’s Facebook account appeared to go offline late on Thursday. The prime minister – one of the world’s longest-serving leaders after nearly four decades in power – had said on Wednesday that he was switching from Facebook to the messaging app Telegram to reach more people, without mentioning the video.

A Meta spokesperson said the company had not suspended or removed his account.

There was no immediate government comment on the case on Thursday.

The decision is the latest in a series of rebukes by the oversight board over how the world’s biggest social media company handles contentious statements by political leaders and posts calling for violence around elections.

The company’s election integrity efforts are in focus as the United States prepares for presidential elections next year.

The board endorsed Meta’s 2021 banishment of former US President Donald Trump – the current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – after the deadly January 6 Capitol Hill riot, but criticized the indefinite nature of his suspension and urged more careful preparation for volatile political situations overall.

Meta reinstated the former US president’s account earlier this year.

The Cambodia case came after several users reported a January video where Hun Sen said those who accused his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of buying votes in a 2022 local election should file a legal case, or face a beating from CPP’s supporters.

Meta determined at the time that the video fell afoul of its rules, but opted to leave it up under a “newsworthiness” exemption, reasoning that the public had an interest in hearing warnings of violence by their government, the ruling said.

The board held that the video’s harms outweighed its news value.

Cambodia’s government has denied targeting the opposition and says those subject to legal action are law breakers.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said Hun Sen had finally been called out for inciting violence.

“This kind of face-off between Big Tech and a dictator over human rights issues is long overdue,” he said in a statement.

Last week, the board said Meta’s handling of calls for violence after the 2022 Brazilian election continued to raise concerns about the effectiveness of its election efforts.

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