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Mounting Challenges for Social Media Platforms in Asia-Pacific

The fining of a Vietnamese citizen for posting to TikTok a video claiming that the world famous Angkor Wat temple is located in Thailand, rather than Cambodia, may seem like an amusing and nonconsequential news story. However, the Cambodian government's response is indicative of a trend across the Asia-Pacific region:  governments are increasingly willing to take action against social media companies that host content they find objectionable. 

As the Vietnamese TikToker's claims were seen as insulting and damaging to the country's heritage, Cambodian authorities demanded the video's removal. TikTok has complied with Cambodia's request. Elsewhere in the region, Singapore's Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam filed suit against TikTok, demanding the names of users who posted claims that he had engaged in an extramarital affair. In Malaysia, officials issued Meta and TikTok warnings of legal action if either removed pro-Palestinian content in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. 

Towards the end of 2023, other Asia-Pacific governments took more sweeping action against social media companies. In September, Indonesia banned e-commerce transactions on social media platforms to prevent predatory pricing and protect offline merchants. In November, Nepal banned TikTok for hosting posts containing hate speech and posing a threat to social unity; in so doing, joining its neighbor India, which banned the platform in 2020.  And, motivated by espionage fears, the Philippines is mulling a TikTok ban for its security sector workers. 

To navigate the tightening grip of Asia-Pacific governments, social media platforms will need to build relationships with relevant officials while continuously monitoring the political trends and cultural sensitivities of each jurisdiction. 

Ho Chi Minh City TikToker Hua Quoc Anh has been fined VND7.5 million (US$306) for posting a video defaming the sacred Cambodian temples of Angkor Wat last year. HCMC authorities announced the fine Wednesday, and warned him to learn from such incidents and comply with Vietnamese laws when using the Internet and social media. In November last year he had posted a video on his TikTok account, which has 700,000 followers, featuring a girl wearing traditional Thai costume and walking around the Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap.