Meta will not suspend Cambodia’s former Prime Minister from Facebook and Instagram, declining to follow a recommendation from its Oversight Board. The board, which functions independently from the social media company, had recommended Meta suspend then-Prime Minister Hun Sen's Facebook and Instagram accounts for six months for inciting violence.
In a response to the case published Wednesday, Meta said a long-term suspension “would not be consistent” with its policies. “Upon assessing Hun Sen’s Facebook Page and Instagram account, we determined that suspending those accounts outside our regular enforcement framework would not be consistent with our policies, including our protocol on restricting accounts of public figures during civil unrest,” the company wrote.
Meta’s handling of the high-profile case has been closely watched around the world, with many viewing it as a test of the company’s policies governing speech from politicians, who have historically had more leeway on the platform. In a statement, an Oversight Board spokesperson said the group "stands by" its recommendations, “Elections are a crucial part of democracy and social media companies must ensure their platforms are not misused in ways which threaten to undermine them. The Board stands by its original decision and urges Meta to do everything in its power to deter public figures who exploit its platforms to incite violence.”
The company had originally asked the Oversight Board to weigh in on a video posted by Sen. The video was of a speech in which Sen told political opponents he'd "gather CPP (Cambodia People's Party) people to protest and beat you up." Meta had opted to leave up the video, citing its controversial newsworthiness policy, despite concluding it had violated the company’s own rules.
The Oversight Board overruled Meta’s decision and said the video should come down. The board also said that Sen should face a lengthy suspension. “Given the severity of the violation, Hun Sen’s history of committing human rights violations and intimidating political opponents, as well as his strategic use of social media to amplify such threats, the Board calls on Meta to immediately suspend Hun Sen’s Facebook page and Instagram account for six months," it wrote.
Meta complied, removing the video in response to the board’s decision, which is binding under the organization’s rules. The company had 60 days to respond to the board’s non-binding recommendations.
Notably, Meta declined other Oversight Board recommendations in the case as well. The company opted not to clarify how its rules for public figures applies in “contexts in which citizens are under continuing threat of retaliatory violence from their governments” rather than a single incidence of violence.
“The protocol is not designed for situations where a history of state violence or human rights restrictions have resulted in ongoing state restrictions on expressions for an indeterminate period of time,” Meta wrote, referring to a policy it implemented in response the Oversight Board’s recommendations in the suspension of former President Donald Trump’s account. “Applying the protocol in those circumstances could lead to an indefinite suspension of a public figure’s account, which (apart from fairness issues) could be detrimental to people’s ability to access information from and about their leaders and to express themselves using Meta’s platforms.”
Similarly, Meta said it was “assessing [the] feasibility” of a board recommendation that it amend its newsworthiness policy to explicitly bar incitement of violence. It also said it was considering a recommendation that posts from heads of state and other government officials are prioritized for review by human moderators when being reviewed for inciting violence.
The company said it was "implementing in part” two other recommendations in the case. The company agreed to make some “product and/or operational guideline changes” to aid in its review of long-form videos. But in response to a suggestion that the company commit to being more forthcoming about how it enforces its rules on the accounts of high-profile government officials, the company said there were some cases when it may continue to withhold details.
“While we have shared details about enforcement actions on the accounts belonging to Hun Sen in this case, and on the accounts of former U.S. President Trump, there may be circumstances where privacy and security considerations weigh against Meta publicly sharing details about actions taken on an account.”