Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh
This week Facebook announced $500 million in investment from Goldman Sachs. This put the value of Facebook at $50 billion, affirming its popularity among many Internet users around the world.
Cambodia is no different, and in the past six months, the number of Facebook users here has skyrocketed.
Cambodians use Facebook to “seek fun, socialize and maintain friendship,” according to data from an online survey by Royal University of Phnom Penh. We now have made Facebook the most visited social networking site in the country.
Leang Chumsoben, a government official in Kampong Chhnang’s provincial administration, has been on Facebook since 2008, using it as a way to stay connected with his sister, a university student in Phnom Penh.
“We can express feelings more openly than before,” he told me in an e-mail. He had recently shared a news article with his 600 Facebook friends reporting on a local newspaper, a new song about “Or Phnom Penh Euy” currently banned by the Ministry of Information.
Leang Chumsoben is far from alone in his Facebooking.
While SocialBakers, a website that provides Facebook statistics, shows that Cambodia users have doubled from 85,000 to 198840 in the last six months, RUPP’s Cambodian Communication Review 2010 says that the number “will be on constant rise along with the growing number of the country’s Internet users as well as the increasingly integrated functions of the Internet – entertainment, information seeking and socializing – among young users”.
In an online survey of 468 Cambodian Facebook users, CCR found that the site “has increasingly become integrated into Cambodian Internet users’ daily experience.” “More than half of the users surveyed used the site at least once a day and another one-third used it several times a week,” the review found.
For organizations, groups and individuals, the site has been used to exchange ideas and mobilize supporters in a number of ways, from branding and businesses to celebrity and politics.
A prominent parliamentarian for the Sam Rainsy Party, Mu Sochua, maintains a Facebook page, where she has 1,450 “friends.” The 56-year-old lawmaker uses the site to spread messages among her supporters more quickly than word of mouth. Four days after the bridge tragedy at Diamond Island in November, 2010, she used Facebook to promote her own blog post “A Nation in Grief – A Nation Transformed.”
“When I was facing the courts in Cambodia, it was the most efficient means and costing
nothing to put out the appeal and the response has been very rewarding,” Mu Sochua responded to my email interview, suggesting that Facebook “is a very powerful political tool when
one has to mobilize thousands or millions to join a cause. Young people contribute to politics in so many different ways and facebook and other forms of social media is changing politics.”
The CCR predicts the number “will be on a constant rise along with the growing number of the country’s Internet users as well as the increasingly integrated functions of the Internet – entertainment, information seeking and socializing – among young users.”
Interestingly, SocialBakers statistics and the CCR found that more men embrace Facebook than women. Of the total of Cambodian Facebook users, SocialBakers counts 61 percent as male. The CCR counts 72 percent male in its survey.
Still, nearly a thousand people are members of Cambodia Women in Business, a Facebook page that shares experiences of entrepreneurs and other business professionals here. Administrators for the site, which was set up by the World Bank’s private-sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, say it “will be a good platform to network, support each other’s activity, but also to celebrate our success.”
The page is frequently updated with relevant news and information, with links to magazines articles like one recently in the Harvard Business Review. That article argued that women represent a larger market than “China and India combined.” To which a member commented: “I don’t think women are poorly served within that context. Cosmetic companies make a lot of money off women.”
Cambodia Living Arts, an NGO that supports the arts here, has attracted 6,000 Facebook fans since its launch in March 2010. That means that even if only half its supporters gave them $1 each, they’d have $3,000 for a project.
CLA Director Phloeun Prim told me by e-mail that the group is aiming for 10,000 fans this year.
“It’s a great way to build a bridge between Cambodians and the world,” he wrote. “Our weekly questions bring a lot of attention and a lot of people answer the question.”
Musical artists like singers Ouk Sokun Kanha and Preap Sovath have Facebook pages too—the former, a woman, has 31,000 fans, while the latter, a man, has about 10 percent of that.
All of this is to say that Cambodians are using Facebook more and more and finding more and more uses for it.