The Facebook page of Prime Minister Hun Sen continues to rack up more “likes” from abroad than from within Cambodia, a week after the Post first reported the unusual trend.
From March 8 to March 13, the premier’s page gained approximately 151,000 new fans, according to data from social media analytics website socialbakers.com. Of these accounts, only 34,069 hail from Cambodia.
India makes up 22,932 of the international contingent, bringing the total size of the prime minister’s Indian following to 360,791 – 11.5 per cent of his fan count.
Thousands of new accounts from the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey have also continued to “like” the page.
Cambodian accounts, which at the time of last week’s report made up 57.6 per cent of Hun Sen’s fans, now account for 56.4 per cent.
The opposition has seized on the Post’s report, accusing the government of buying “likes” from click farms, where low-paid workers in developing countries create accounts to boost social media profiles’ popularity.
After inspecting the data, Danny Meadows-Klue, CEO of the London-based Digital Strategy Consulting group said the “disproportionate interest” from India was “strange”.
“This looks far above the levels of international interest you’d normally expect from people outside the country [typically expats or those interested in regional politics],” he said, via email.
Buoyed by international likes, Hun Sen’s page reached 3 million followers earlier this month, but Social Bakers data show the page’s engagement rate has actually fallen for each of the past three weeks.
For the week of February 15, the prime minister’s page averaged 465 interactions per 1,000 fans. This number fell to 463 for the week of the 22nd, 430 for the week of the 29th, and a mere 363 for the week of March 7.
“If any brand is ‘buying fans, likes or followers’, they’d typically have an audience with low engagement and a silent community,” Meadows-Klue said.
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan denied the fans were fakes.
“Cambodia should be proud that foreigners from India and the Philippines like our premier,” he said.
Spokesman for the Information Ministry Ouk Kimseng suggested the story was “politically motivated”.
“You’re playing into the hands of the CNRP,” he said.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has continued to use the allegations of “like”-buying as ammunition against the premier despite a defamation lawsuit filed against him last week.
Rainsy again took aim at Hun Sen’s fan count on Saturday, in a Facebook post featuring an image of two apparently Indian people accompanied by a speech bubble stating: “I was paid to like Hun Sen’s page. We in India are very poor. We just need money.”
Political commentator Ou Virak said the negative stereotyping was uncalled for, as was the emphasis both politicians placed on online popularity, which he called “like a high school competition”.
Rainsy yesterday said it was not his intention to be racist.
“I just wanted to show poor people in India [those possibly providing fake Facebook “likes” in exchange for money] and I picked those photos from Google,” he said, via email.