Facebook has rejected outright Sam Rainsy’s lawsuit for information regarding Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social media page, with the matter now in the hands of a California court to decide if it will order the Silicon Valley giant to comply with Rainsy’s request.
Rainsy, the former opposition leader, submitted an application to the Northern District of California court requesting permission to serve Facebook a subpoena for discovery last month.
The lawsuit accused the premier of violating Facebook policies, including buying “likes” and making death threats on his page. The former opposition leader’s application also claims the information supplied could aid Rainsy’s legal defence in Cambodia, where he has been convicted of defamation for having accused Hun Sen of buying Facebook support.
In its publicly available response filed March 1, Facebook claimed the application violates the Stored Communications Act – which protects personal information – and the Communications Decency Act, which gives Facebook immunity for comments made by third parties on its platform.
The rejection also paints Rainsy’s request for information as merely part of a personal feud with Hun Sen and his own quest for political power.
The document accuses Rainsy of trying to “embroil” the neutral company in a political dispute, and refers to the request for discovery as an “improper fishing expedition”.
Facebook’s response also dismisses the application for not including any Cambodian court documents – only newspaper articles about Rainsy’s defamation cases.
Facebook “carefully evaluate[s] credible allegations of misuse and abuse of the platform”, spokeswoman Genevieve Grdina said on Monday. However, Rainsy has not “taken necessary steps under federal law to support his requests” for information, she said.
Rainsy’s legal team on March 7 submitted a reply to the court in which it called Facebook’s rejection “nuclear-blunderbuss” and “pretextual double-speak”.
“Far from being a neutral actor, Facebook reaps millions of dollars in revenue through wartime profiteering. It sells advertising to regimes that are using the platform to commit human rights atrocities,” the document reads.
Rainsy’s team goes on to accuse Facebook of trying to cover up its own reprehensible behaviour.
They write that the law only bars Facebook from divulging personal information, not “non-content communication”, such as where Facebook likes originated. An investigation by The Post in 2016 found the premier’s page had a disproportionate number of likes from users in India and the Philippines.
The legal team acknowledges that Facebook is not legally responsible for what it calls crimes committed by Hun Sen on the platform, but adds that “does not give Facebook immunity from complying with Federal rules of Discovery”.
In an email Saturday, Rainsy challenged the company’s ethics and its alleged role in assisting authoritarian governments.
“By adamantly seeking to hide the truth about online tricks obviously not in line with its official code of ethics, the Facebook Company doesn't seem to care about its image even though it may be perceived as helping consolidate the power of dictators,” he wrote.
Rainsy has been living abroad to avoid a slew of politically tinged convictions since 2015. In 2017, his convictions forced him to step down as leader of the opposition, and his replacement Kem Sokha was subsequently arrested for “treason”. Their party was dissolved entirely in November.
“Hun Sen… is using his Facebook "popularity" as a justification to violently crackdown on his political opponents in Cambodia,” he added.