It was six months ago, when Sreychreb Sou's brother moved to Thailand to find work, that she decided to get on Facebook. The 18-year-old high school student signed up because she wanted him to be able to stay in touch with the family in Pong Ror Chas, a small village in Cambodia's Siem Reap province, not that far from the famous temples of Angkor Wat. The platform allowed the family to chat on video.
"It let my brother see his mother's face again," she says.
Since then, Facebook has become an important part of Sreychreb's life. In addition to talking with her absent brother, she chats with her classmates, reads news and shares information about traffic accidents and other events. Problem was, she never really thought much about what she was passing along to her Facebook friends.
"I just shared everything," she recalls. "I didn't know if it was true or not. I just learned that some things are not true on Facebook when I came to this workshop."
A chance for responsible participation
The workshop Sreycheb is attending with twelve other young women from her province is part of a project funded by Germany's Federal Foreign Office called "My voice counts! – Women express themselves through social media". The goal of the project is to teach young women from three provinces and the capital Phnom Penh how to use social media to participate in society, and how to use it responsibly.
"The rapid growth of social media has created new possibilities for participation in Cambodian society," says Sabina Casagrande, DW Akademie's Country Manager for Cambodia. "This is especially important for Cambodian women, who now have new ways to make their voices heard in a traditionally patriarchal society."
One of Sreycheb's trainers is Leakhena Nov, a 27-year-old journalist and local multimedia instructor. Before heading out to conduct the two-day workshop in Siem Reap city, Leakhena took part herself in two DW Akademie workshops where eight Cambodians were trained to become social media trainers.
In one, a curriculum was developed focusing on the most important aspects of responsible Facebook use in the Cambodian context. Another taught different methods to effectively train the young women, many of whom were new to Facebook and only have a very basic knowledge about the advantages and risks of social media.
"They had no real idea about the importance of controlling your account and your privacy," Leakhena says. "So we teach them how to create strong passwords or recover those they didn’t know."
Bringing knowledge to the province
The young women are also learning how to recognize disinformation and to think twice before tapping "share" on a post that looks suspicious. They're practicing creating effective Facebook posts – taking interesting pictures with their phones and writing text to go with them. They've been looking at their privacy settings, deciding who should see their posts and what information about themselves they want to make public.
"I totally support introducing these young women to these topics," says Leakhena. "In the countryside, they don't have the same knowledge and access to information as people in the cities do."
Indeed, for some of these rural young women, who live among rice fields, the one-hour trip to Siem Reap City was both exciting and overwhelming. Taking an elevator to the fifth floor workshop room was a new experience for some – and a daunting one.
Sreycheb says the workshop opened her eyes about social media and she's now eager to use it for good. "I want to post things that benefit the community, such as letting officials know about problems,” she says. “Sometimes people see these posts and act."Kyle James