Days after Prime Minister Hun Sen surpassed 3 million fans on Facebook, an analysis of the premier’s social media followers has found more than half the “likes” garnered by his page in the past month were from abroad – mostly from India and the Philippines – raising questions about their legitimacy.
The analysis, using data collected by social media analytics website socialbakers.com, shows that about 779,000 Facebook accounts “liked” Hun Sen in the past month but only 157,331 were located in Cambodia.
The biggest influx, 255,692, came from India, where a total of 332,475 Facebook accounts “like” Hun Sen.
Further, over the past 30 days, 98,256 accounts from the Philippines liked the premier, as did 54,972 from Myanmar, 46,368 from Indonesia, 26,527 from Brazil, 12,980 from Mexico, 4,783 from Turkey and 3,952 from the United Arab Emirates.
Overall, 591,717, or nearly 50 per cent, of Hun Sen’s 1.2 million international followers were added in the past month.
After hitting 3 million followers, a post on Hun Sen’s Facebook page said: “I would like to thank my national compatriots and youths in the country and overseas who support my Facebook page, which has received 3 million likes as of 6:08pm (6 March).
“Facebook has brought me closer with people and allowed me to listen and receive more requests directly from them.
“Through Facebook, I have solved some problems quickly and effectively.”
However, a Cambodia-based digital expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said the geographical distribution of Hun Sen’s most recent Facebook followers called into question their validity.
“The only explanation is that they’re not real,” he said. “It doesn’t happen that people [from other countries] out of the blue just start liking a page.”
Likes can be bought for Facebook pages when owners want them to appear more popular than they actually are.
The likes are sold by companies using offshore “click farms”, operations in which low-paid workers create fake accounts to help bolster likes, followers and views on social media profiles.
Facebook periodically purges fake accounts created by click farms, which past investigations have found in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Suzie Shaw, managing director of Australia-based social media consultancy We Are Social, said “buying likes” was a dying practice.
“There’s no question it happens, but it’s something in the developed social media world that’s becoming less common.
The benefits of doing it are not so high; you have to spend a lot of money to reach people who are not genuine fans . . . just phony numbers.”
“I can see why a prime minister would do it, but it’s so easy to detect. For a start, you can search for how many followers are in a constituency, which can be determined through analytics geographically, [for example] whether they’re in Cambodia and if not, you’d have to ask in what way are they relevant?”
In recent months, Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy have been vying for social media supremacy, with the premier lauding his dethroning of his rival as the “Prime Minister of Facebook”, after surpassing his number of followers.
But, in fact, the data shows Rainsy’s 1.83 million Cambodia-based fans outnumber Hun Sen’s 1.73 million.
Sam Rainsy’s in-country accounts make up 82 per cent of his fan base, with the bulk of the remainder based in Thailand, Myanmar, South Korea, the US and Vietnam.
Messages to the premier’s Facebook page and website went unanswered yesterday.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he knew nothing of Hun Sen’s Facebook likes, but stressed the prime minister was motivated by public service, not popularity, online.
“The purpose of using this platform is for good governance, two-way communication between his people and his administration . . . It’s not [about] popularity, it’s good governance . . . He enjoys popularity already, that’s why he was elected by his people and by the National Assembly,” Siphan said.
This, in fact, is borne out in the data from Socialbakers, which is used by companies including Toyota, Nestle and ING Bank.
The premier’s page rates exceptionally high in terms of participation by Facebook users, averaging 1,800 interactions per 1,000 fans over the past month.
In the same period, posts on the page accrued 4.1 million likes, 106,000 comments and 533,000 shares.
In comparison, Rainsy averaged 558.4 interactions per 1,000 fans, 1.1 million likes, 15,100 comments and 133,000 shares.
Via email from France, the Cambodia National Rescue Party president said buying fake likes missed the point of social media.
“Any race to immediately collect the highest number of ‘likes’ is irrelevant when it comes to determining the real and lasting impact of your messages on Facebook,” Rainsy said.
“With unlimited financial resources and a mobilisation of the state apparatus combined with some technical tricks, you can promote a page with staggering results. But how many of the artificial ‘likes’ collected that way are meaningful in terms of political and social impact?”
Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda