Facebook “likes” are a powerful tool for authoritarians

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)

A Cambodian opposition leader has filed a petition in a California court against Facebook, demanding the company disclose its transactions with his country’s authoritarian prime minister, whom he accuses of falsely inflating his popularity through purchased “likes” and spreading fake news.

The petition, filed Feb. 8, brings the ongoing debate over Facebook’s power to undermine democracies into a legal setting.

[The petitioner, Sam Rainsy] alleges that Hun had used “click farms” to artificially boost his popularity, effectively buying “likes.”

The petition says that Hun had achieved astonishing Facebook fame in a very short time, raising questions about whether this popularity was legitimate. For instance, the petition says, Hun Sen’s page is “liked” by 9.4 million people “even though only 4.8 million Cambodians use Facebook,” and that millions of these “likes” come from India, the Philippines, Brazil, and Myanmar, countries that don’t speak Khmer, the sole language the page is written in, and that are known for “click farms.”

According to leaked correspondence that the petition refers to, the Cambodian government’s payments to Facebook totaled $15,000 a day “in generating fake ‘likes’ and advertising on the network to help dissiminate[sic] the regime’s propaganda and drown-out any competing voices.”

Source: Quartz


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