Earlier this month, Bui Van Thuan, a chemistry teacher turned crusader in Vietnam, published one of the most damning Facebook posts about land disputes between villagers and the communist government.l issues, such as in Dong Tam, a village outside Hanoi, where residents are fighting authorities “plans to seize farmland to build a factory.
According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Trung Khoa Le, a Vietnamese journalist, contacted Facebook after four of his posts were blocked in Vietnam. The newspaper accused Facebook of blocking posts with links to articles critical of the government in German media. Facebook has also been accused of censoring critical posts by reporters across the border in Vietnam.
Vietnam has also increased pressure on social media. Hanoi has warned Facebook that its services in Vietnam could be shut down if it does not agree to tighten restrictions on content. Facebook yielded to similar calls in April to censor more anti-government posts, but Vietnam is now seeking tougher action.
The Vietnamese government requires social media companies to consider posts that violate exaggerated and vague provisions of the penal code, which criminalizes anti-government and anti-government statements and efforts to organize protests and other forms of dissent. Its Cybersecurity Act, which entered into force in January 2019, requires service providers and internet companies to delete content that offends authorities within 24 hours of receiving their requests. In the past, Facebook has resisted calls to block access to user posts and removed posts at different times.
The decision increases the likelihood that there will be further restrictions on content in the future. Human Rights Watch called on Facebook to reverse the decision. According to a detailed report by Reuters, citing sources inside and outside Facebook, the Vietnamese government has disrupted access to Facebook’s servers and slowed access to its services in recent months in an effort to pressure the social media giant to remove or restrict anti-government content.
As one of the fastest growing social networks in the country, Facebook is uniquely positioned to help raise public health awareness. But the Vietnamese government has been accused of restricting access, blocking Facebook, and allowing government officials to spy on dissidents. As we learned in April, the Vietnamese government’s censorship apparatus works hand in hand with private companies. As we reported earlier this year, state-owned telecommunications companies are choking off traffic to Facebook, temporarily making access to the social media site impossible, and Facebook has agreed to remove content that the government considers anti-state.
In 2016, online reports of an animal welfare crisis at a safari park on the island of Phu Quoc in South Vietnam run by Vingroup, one of the country’s largest conglomerates, led to a Facebook campaign questioning the import and treatment of wild animals. The company denied reports that thousands of animals had died at the park and workers had stopped work in protest. In 2017, an influential Facebook post and an online radio interview about a real estate project by the company and other corporations were removed. Facebook disabled the accounts of users discussing the issue and posted on Facebook pages where administrators claimed they had stopped posting on the topic for security reasons, according to the BBC’s Vietnamese service, leading some observers to believe that users were facing reprisals from the company or its supporters.
When asked for comment, Google referred VOA to its guidelines. In its policy, the company said it relies on the government to notify it of potentially illegal content and that it will restrict it once it is reviewed. Google said it removes posts that violate local laws and that most requests for removal by the government are related to political content and criticism. Facebook said it had restricted access in part in response to reports of content aimed at the Communist Party and the Vietnamese government.
Earlier this month, for example, a Facebook user in Vietnam was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for posting about “distortions of the political situation” on an official Communist Party website. Facebook has said it expects the new rules will force it to restrict more content. But Facebook remains an important tool for activists in Vietnam, a country where government criticism is tolerated and the fight between authorities and dissidents is a cat-and-mouse game. Human rights activists seem to have little hope of relief.
A two-year audit of Facebook’s civil rights record found that the company had prioritized free speech over politicians and other values, hampering its progress on issues such as discrimination, election interference, and protecting vulnerable users. Facebook declined to comment on the Vietnamese statistics, but admitted it had tightened its censorship. Earlier this month, the minister told MPs that Facebook had increased its compliance rate to 95%. Social media companies had reached a “very high level,” he said.
Facebook is the most popular platform in Vietnam with 65 million users, the seventh largest user base in the world and one of the largest markets in Asia, figures from market data firm Statista show. In an environment of limited access to independent news, freedom of expression is flourishing on Facebook and YouTube. Blogger Doan Bao Chau said the presence of social media like Facebook plays an important role in a country that does not have a free press. Vietnam has a poor record on media freedom, ranking 175th out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders “Freedom of the Press Index.
itical content – with some success. YouTube, a Google-owned streaming service, said in December that it would set up an office in Turkey after a law was passed in July requiring major social media companies to appoint local representatives. The move is seen as a way to reinforce calls for job cuts that the authorities consider inappropriate. The region is important for Facebook and Google, as most Internet users outside China do not have access to these services. This is because state censorship is a way to make propaganda accessible to a wider audience.
A third reason for the similarities is the outsized role of the Ministry of Public Security in regulating cybersecurity in both countries. In China, the ministry is heavily involved in Internet regulation and personal data protection, and, despite a reorganization of China’s cyberspace authorities, it retains a prominent role in national Internet governance. In Vietnam, the same could be said for the fact that the ministry drafted and proposed the new cybersecurity law in the first place. This underlines the intention of the law, which aims, among other things, to control online content in order to protect citizens from cybersecurity damage.