Meta says it won’t censor ex-Cambodian leader Hun Sen over incendiary speech

President Joe Biden (L) with Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen as they meet on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Phnom Penh in Cambodia in November 2022. File Photo by Cambodian PM Press Office | License Photo

Aug. 29 (UPI) — The U.S.-based Meta Platforms announced Tuesday the social media giant has chosen not to censor the Instagram and Facebook accounts of Hun Sen, the former leader of Cambodia who has been under fire for a live video he broadcasted of an incendiary speech he delivered in January.

Hun Sen, who led Cambodia for 38 years, passed on rule to his son after what has been considered a sham election in July. In the January speech, the Cambodian leader made comments that have been viewed as threatening violence to citizens of his country.

The situation and the decision by Meta, a U.S. company, could have global ramifications for content moderation.

The video quickly racked up more than half a million page views and thousands of shares before it was flagged to Facebook. Human reviewers at Facebook determined the video did not violate the social media site’s policies.

After further review, Meta determined that the content did violate the company’s Violence and Incitement policy outlined under Facebook’s Community Standards but decided to leave the video up under a newsworthy allowance.

The video was ultimately flagged to Meta’s oversight board, a quasi-independent body that helps the social media sites self-govern content decisions. The oversight board took up consideration of how to handle the Hun Sen video in March.

“Meta referred this case to the board because we found it significant and difficult as it creates tension between our values of safety and voice,” Meta said in a news release Tuesday.

Meta said it would comply with the board’s decision to remove the video but opted not to take action to further limit Hun Sen.

“Our commitment to voice is a critical component of our protocol on restricting accounts of public figures, which we created following the Board’s decision in the Donald Trump case, specifically to address the Board’s concerns regarding the indefinite suspension of public figures,” Meta said.

“This protocol is designed to apply a severe time-bound restriction, or suspension, on the account of a public figure users inciting or celebrating ongoing civil unrest or violence in crisis situations. The protocol is not designed for situations where a history of state violence or human rights restrictions have resulted in ongoing state restrictions on expressions for an indeterminate period of time.”

Meta noted that social media has provided platforms for citizens in countries where freedom of the press has been curtailed by the government.

“These concerns are particularly acute in Cambodia, where prior independent human rights due diligence highlighted the importance of our platforms to the information ecosystem in that country,” Meta said.

“Our products and services have been essential to freedom of information and expression in Cambodia given its restricted media environment. Our platforms serve as an important source of independent news and a tool for activists to improve public officials’ accountability.”

Meta added that, though Hun Sen’s accounts would not be suspended, they will continue to be subject to the social media company’s “penalty system” which “apply to all users all around the world.”

Cambodia’s Ministry of Post and Telecommunications cheered Meta’s decision in a statement posted to Facebook. Hun Sen’s government had previously threatened to shut down Facebook in the country.

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