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Government Officials Increasingly on Facebook

Senior Cambodian government officials are using their smart phones while awaiting the return of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen from France at Phnom Penh International Airport, October 28, 2015. Government officials and state institutions have recently taken to Facebook to inform the public as the social media platform is becoming increasingly popular among Cambodian youth. (Hean Socheata/VOA Khmer)

In July, an estimated 2.9 million Cambodians were on Facebook, up from 1.7 million a year earlier.

The social networking website Facebook has grown increasingly popular with government officials, who use it to communicate with their constituents and to push their political positions to a younger audience.

Most ministries have a Facebook page, and Prime Minister Hun Sen has an official page, as well. The Hun Sen page, which has more than 1.4 million likes, contains information on the premier’s daily activities, speeches and reactions to political events.

Ouk Kimseng, an adviser to the Ministry of Information, said there is now a lot of news and information available on Facebook, compared to elsewhere. If pages are official, “people can know that the information is accurate enough,” he said.

Facebook allows a new kind of interaction between people and the government, which is an improvement, he said. “The government would take those suggestions from public for consideration,” he said.

It is free of charge and helps Cambodia catch up to the rest of the world, he added.

It’s also a boon to news organizations and journalists, said Kay Kimsong, editor-in-chief for The Phnom Penh Post Khmer. “We now can quote from those official Facebook pages, while we hardly quote directly from [the people behind them], especially opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen,” he said.

According to a report released by the Open Institute in November, Facebook has become the second-most important means for Cambodians to access information. In July, an estimated 2.9 million Cambodians were on Facebook, up from 1.7 million a year earlier.

Media experts say that while Facebook provides a new platform for information sharing, the information is still limited. And it is not necessarily transparent.

“Access to information requires that the government be more open,” said So Sorthy, advocacy officer at the Cambodian Center for Independent Media. “Information is knowledge that people need every day, just like they need meals every day.”

Meanwhile, Facebook has also become a dangerous place for government critics. Rescue Party senator Hong Sok Hour is currently in jail, facing charges related to his posting a border document on Facebook that the government says is fake.

And Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy this week received a court summons in a criminal defamation suit brought by National Assembly President Heng Samrin, for a video Sam Rainsy posted on his Facebook page.