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The Cambodian Government's Social Media Nightmare

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, December 18 2013

Prime Minister of Cambodia, and leader of the CPP, Hun Sen (Wikipedia)

The growing popularity of social media in Cambodia, not as entertainment but as a source for alternative news, is threatening the established government leaders and their state-controlled media narratives. In the national elections this June the opposition pulled in 55 seats to the ruling Cambodian People's Party 68, in large part due to the participation of plugged-in and social media-savvy youths. More recently, the government has had their state-approved media account of a November clash between striking garment workers and police refuted by videos uploaded to the Internet and spread through social media.

Television reports of the event show protesters throwing stones at the police, but omit the fact that officers fired live rounds at protesters, injuring several people and killing one street food vendor.

Police officers deny firing live rounds, and defend their actions by saying that they were only defending themselves, but the Cambodia Daily reports:

In a video posted online by local rights group Licadho on Wednesday, the footage clearly shows at least two riot police officers facing toward protesters and firing their pistols repeatedly. . . Claims by the government that police were only defending themselves have also been dashed by videos circulated on Facebook showing extreme brutality meted out to unarmed civilians, including monks, by members of the police and military police.

Activists were early adopters of social media in Cambodia, but participation is growing. Prominent political blogger Ou Ritthy attributes the meteoric rise of Facebook's popularity in the country (a new user every two minutes, according to one estimate) to the need for alternative news.

“Why is Facebook so popular here? In Thailand or other countries, they have better media – mass media, newspapers and TV that helps to inform people,” Ritthy told the Southeast Asia Globe. “There is no alternative choice for people here. Big public opinion is showing the CPP that it’s time to think about mass media. Think about how you advertise your party. It’s not effective, so change. Make something more relevant.”

"We organize small meetings in real life, but the most significant conversations take place on Facebook,” Ritthy told the Asia Times Online. “I like to post controversial statements and provoke an online discussion. Democracy was born out of discussion.”

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