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An internet user reads up–to–date political commentary on Facebook in Phnom Penh
An internet user reads up–to–date political commentary on Facebook in Phnom Penh. Government officials say they have no plans to shut down the popular social network. VIREAK MAI

Facebook safe: government

Although some of its users have made a habit of posting content critical of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, Facebook will be not be banned or restricted in any way, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said on Saturday.

Just days after Metfone customers were not able to access Facebook for several hours – downtime that prompted speculation the government had blocked the social networking site – Kanharith dismissed the idea of internet censorship.

“It would be completely crazy if we controlled the internet,” he said at a graduation ceremony on Saturday. “We have nothing to gain by closing Facebook, and we have no criminal law regarding the internet.”

Government intervention in cyber-land was something people had suggested to the minister in the wake of torrents of abuse, “anarchy” and digitally altered photos of political figures, including himself, Kanharith added.

But none of it had changed the government’s position and it had no such plans to “manage the net”.

Kanharith said he objected to anonymous insults, “bad writers” and “half-finished” journalism that appeared on Facebook, but said he supported the public’s freedom to look elsewhere than television for their news.

People were doing just that, opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday, and Facebook was opening their eyes to the realities of Cambodian society.

“You can see the corruption and human rights violations,” he said. “People get accurate news and see the truth ... [they] don’t see on TV. It’s their only means of accessing information that reflects reality.”

This increased awareness had doubtless scored more votes – and seats – for the CNRP at the July 28 election, he said.

But despite Facebook providing an enormous advantage to the CNRP, Sovann has no fears of the site being banned.

“I think it is impossible to [ban],” he said.

Kounila Keo, a prominent blogger and media consultant in Cambodia, said banning Facebook would certainly affect Cambodia’s political landscape – but only for as long as it took for people to find their way past the filters.

“No matter how many times [Facebook] has been banned in Vietnam, people have still found ways to go back,” she said.

The site itself was a hugely effective tool for spreading information and a medium the opposition had successfully tapped in to during its campaign, Kounila added.

“Raw, unedited, uncensored videos [and] information have been posted timely by people who don’t fear or can remain anonymous,” she said.

The CNRP "capitalised on social media to draw popularity and support on Facebook [and] organised meet-ups and more.”

During the election period and the time since, Kounila added, Facebook users had continued their discussions without fear or restriction, something “unprecedented in Cambodia”.

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