Cambodian dictator Hun Sen has ruled since 1998, and when an opposition leader used Facebook to challenge his election in 2013, Hun Sen teamed up with a fake news outlet called Fresh News to deploy a Facebook-based strategy to consolidate his control and neutralize democratic opposition.
Hun Sen and his attack-dog media outlets became experts in Facebook's rules and enjoyed back-channel direct access to Facebook's terms-of-service enforcers, so they were able to force Facebook to terminate the accounts of anonymous opposition figures (for not using their "real names"), goad others into crossing Facebook's lines on civility and get their accounts terminated, and round up anyone who used their real names for arrest, torture, and disappearance.
At the same time, clickfarms in the Philippines and India started mass-liking Hun Sen's own posts — just as Facebook was using Cambodia as a trial-site for the downranking of media outlets in personal newsfeeds, in favor of posts by individual accounts. This killed what was left of the Cambodian opposition press, while Hun Sen's cyber-militia were able to spread his clickfarm-upranked messages to the whole country.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was forced into exile after he publicly accused Hun Sen of being behind the clickfarm upvotes on his posts. Now, Rainsy is suing Facebook in a California court, alleging that the company was complicit in Hun Sen's manipulation of the national discourse in order to maintain his grip on power.
Rainsy alleges that Hun had used "click farms" to artificially boost his popularity, effectively buying "likes." The petition says that Hun had achieved astonishing Facebook fame in a very short time, raising questions about whether this popularity was legitimate. For instance, the petition says, Hun Sen's page is "liked" by 9.4 million people "even though only 4.8 million Cambodians use Facebook," and that millions of these "likes" come from India, the Philippines, Brazil, and Myanmar, countries that don't speak Khmer, the sole language the page is written in, and that are known for "click farms."
According to leaked correspondence that the petition refers to, the Cambodian government's payments to Facebook totaled $15,000 a day "in generating fake 'likes' and advertising on the network to help dissiminate[sic] the regime's propaganda and drown-out any competing voices."
Facebook "likes" are a powerful tool for authoritarian rulers, court petition says [Hanna Kozlowska/Quartz]
(Image: VOA, CC0)