Meta's Oversight Board urges Facebook to suspend Cambodia's Prime Minister

The decision to leave up a video he posted 'threatens political opponents with violence,' it said.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Meta's Oversight Board has called for a six month ban on Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's Facebook and Instagram accounts for inciting violence, it wrote in a news release. It's the second time in the last week that the Board has reversed a high profile Meta review, after a Brazilian user posted a video asking followers to "besiege" government. However, it's the first time the Oversight Board has asked for a head of state to be banned, a decision that may have ramifications for future policy decisions.

Hun Sen, who has led Cambodia since 1985, is facing an election this month. Earlier in the year, he posted a video of a speech telling political opponents he'd "gather CPP (Cambodia People's Party) people to protest and beat you up." Following several user reports and appeals, Meta policy and subject matter experts recommended leaving the post up based on newsworthiness, even though it violated the company's community standards for violence and incitement.

"Given the severity of the violation, 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 Board calls on Meta to immediately suspend Hun Sen’s Facebook page and Instagram account for six months," it wrote. The suspension is non-binding, but Meta must take down the contested video within 60 days.

In explaining the decision, the Board said that the "harm caused by allowing the content on the platform outweighs the post's public interest value," particularly given the prime minister's reach on social media. The original moderation decision, it added, "results in Meta's platforms contributing to these harms by amplifying the threats and resulting intimidation."

Such behavior should not be rewarded. Meta should more heavily weigh press freedom when considering newsworthiness so that the allowance is not applied to government speech in situations where that government has made its own content more newsworthy by limiting free press.

On top of Hun Sen's ban, the Board advised Meta to make clear that its moderation policies are not restricted to single incidents of civil unrest or violence. It also recommended removing the newsworthiness allowance policy in cases involving incitement of violence, and prioritize reviews involving heads of state and senior members of government. Finally, it asked Meta to reveal the reasoning behind its decision for Hun Sen "and in all account-level actions against heads of state and senior members of government."

The Board's review could set a bar for moderation of other authoritarian leaders in Asia, Human Rights Watch director Phil Robertson told The Post, while calling the takedown request of Hun Sen "long overdue." Facebook famously banned former US president Donald Trump from the platform (and restored his account earlier this year), but has caved to censorship demands in nations including Vietnam. Twitter owner Elon Musk recently justified censorship in Turkey ahead of an election, saying the company has "no actual choice" but to comply with such requests.

The Cambodian government hasn't responded yet to the board's decision, but previously said that the remarks were "only a confirmation of the legal process" in the nation. Hun Sen, who has 14 million Facebook followers, said today that he would halt any active posting on Facebook and use Telegram instead.