Cambodian PM Fights Back in Facebook Likes War

Cambodian people display Facebook pages of Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy.
The Facebook pages of Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy on mobile phones in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 8. The two are competing for the most likes. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook has become the new battleground for political power in Cambodia after the prime minister was forced to deny that he has bought fake likes for his popular page.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, 63, has amassed more than 3.2 million likes for his page, after passing the 3 million mark earlier in March. But a recent report in Cambodian national The Phnom Penh Post claimed that, in recent months, an influx of likes had come from outside Cambodia, raising the possibility that someone had bought likes for the prime minister's account to artificially boost his popularity. The same report found that opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who went into exile after Hun Sen called for his arrest in 2015, has garnered more social media support from within Cambodia, with 1.83 million of his 2.2 million likes coming from Cambodian accounts compared to 1.73 million for Hun Sen.

The prime minister, who refers to himself as a digital dinosaur, denied he had been involved in the process of faking his Facebook popularity. "I don't know where those 'likes' are from," said Hun Sen on Thursday, according to the BBC.

The Cambodian leader also referred to Rainsy as "a loser who doesn't agree to lose" and said he was happy that he has been "recognized by Indian people and people in other countries." More than 330,000 Indian accounts like Hun Sen's page, and India accounted for the biggest influx of likes over the past month, according to the Phnom Penh Post report. Large numbers of accounts from the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia have also recently liked Hun Sen's page. Facebook bans the practice of artificially inflating likes and periodically purges fake accounts used to boost social media presence.

An April 2015 report by Twiplomacy, which monitors world leaders' activity on Twitter, found that Pope Francis was the most influential global leader on the social media site, averaging more than 7,500 retweets for each message he posts. The pope was followed by King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who averaged more than 4,400 retweets.