Hun Sen bragged about his Facebook prowess during a speech to thousands of workers on Koh Pich on Sunday, mocking former opposition leader Sam Rainsy for his alleged ineptitude at using the social media platform.
But despite the familiarity of the boast – and questions raised by evidence that millions of Hun Sen’s Facebook “likes” originate in countries like India and the Philippines, where few Cambodians live – recent analytics show Rainsy’s social media presence has indeed taken a hit since the passage of controversial laws specifically designed to sideline him from the political discourse.
“In fact, Sam Rainsy does not know how to use Facebook but declares himself the chief of Facebook,” Hun Sen told the audience, during a speech that was ostensibly about labour rights. “Sam Rainsy does not even know the difference between a post ‘like’ and a total page ‘like’.
“The ‘like’ numbers of Sam Rainsy keep decreasing – something is wrong with that. This is called an empty winded Facebook,” the prime minister added.
According to social media analytical tool Socialbakers, Rainsy’s rate of growth on the platform has indeed decreased recently, with the downward trend coinciding with the July passage of Political Party Law amendments that forbade parties from “conspiring” with “convicts”.
The amendments also prohibit using the voice, image or activities of a convicted criminal for a party’s benefit. Rainsy has been convicted in several cases widely considered to be politically motivated.
Both Rainsy’s “like” growth rate and his level of post interactions – reactions, comments or shares – have suffered since July.
Since January, Rainsy has gained an average of 181,428 new “likes” per month. In the last 30 days, however, he has managed about a third of that, at 67,000.
His interactions have also suffered profoundly. Over the past seven months, he averaged about 2.2 million per month. In the last 30 days, he’s had just 1.4 million.
But CNRP party spokesman Yim Sovann dismissed Hun Sen’s taunts.
“The truth is the truth. It’s not about likes – it’s about free and fair elections . . . If [Hun Sen] thought Sam Rainsy can’t compete with him, he would not pass that law,” Sovann said.
However, the drop-off still raises questions as to whether the amendments were indeed scaring supporters away from Rainsy’s Facebook page, which is his last remaining platform after being forced out of his own party by a previous set of amendments to the party law.
Loy Sam Ol, the CNRP chief of Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak II commune, acknowledged yesterday that he and other supporters were afraid to interact with Rainsy’s page now.
“We cannot do anything against the law . . . For the ‘likes’ and shares, people do not dare to do it because they are afraid that they will break the law and face punishment,” Sam Ol said.
Rainsy himself also speculated that followers might be intimidated.
“People are more afraid to ‘like’ or share my posts because of news that people have been arrested just for sharing a post that Hun Sen thinks is inciting,” he said.
He also had another explanation: “My share, or penetration, [of the market] has grown bigger and bigger. It’s normal for the rate to slow down when you approach the ceiling of the market.”