Facebook may have been a global phenomenon for years now, but for many Cambodians, it’s relatively new. Young people use Facebook to connect with friends and share photos and videos. More and more, it is also the place where they get their news.
Kouch Hihout, a student at the Institute of Foreign Languages who owns an iPhone, says he uses Facebook primarily to share information, study, and read the news. With his iPhone, he can access Facebook anywhere and at all times.
“Facebook is fast, especially for news, which is ideal for contemporary society - I can keep track of and live in the modern world,” he says.
Om Dararun, a civil engineer at a private firm, notes that Facebook is more widely used than Twitter in Cambodia. He says he uses the networking site to keep abreast of what’s going on in society and the rest of the world.
“I like reading fresh news the most, and because there are many different sources on Facebook, I can see different perspectives and find the most accurate one.”
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, says Facebook can be transformative for society, allowing individuals to connect with their government leaders more easily. It’s also a place for people to come together around a shared issue, he says.
“It helps improve social accountability, transparency and good government.”
He sites the example of the fatal March 7 traffic accident. At about 9:30pm, the children of two famous Cambodian stars were killed, and the story spread like wildfire throughout the internet. Many Cambodians learned of the incident through Facebook and quickly passed the story on to their friends.
As the number of Cambodian Facebook users continues to rise, businesses and news services are taking notice too.
Leng Sotheary, an assistant director at happycambodia.com, says Facebook is the fastest way to reach her audience.
“In order to let others know about our online magazine, we need to share our articles on Facebook because it has great influence in Cambodia nowadays,” she says.
Chhean Nariddh cautions that Facebook users who fulfil the role of citizen journalists must study media practices, ethics and law, as information posted inaccurately on the site can be misleading and may even infringe on copyright.
Pen Samitthy, editor of Rasmey Kampuchea and president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, says citizen journalists can play a positive role in society because, by posting information independently, social media can reach areas traditional media – such as newspapers, radio and television – cannot.
However, he has advice for citizen journalists: “Using Facebook can bring advantages, yet they should also learn more about the potential impact of what they are posting.”
Facebook has evolved from a source of entertainment to a portal for the latest news and information. Citizen journalists on Facebook have the capacity to bring attention to stories they find worthy and to find a voice that they might not otherwise have.